Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph-December 30th 2018

homilyholyfamilylostjesus2018 Deacon Blaine Barclay

The Opening prayer at the beginning of mass asks us to imitate the Holy Family, practising the virtues of family life, especially ‘the bonds of charity’. Love is the glue that holds family together.

The story of Jesus getting lost when he was 12 concretely illustrates some of these virtues of family life. Jesus’ family went to the Passover feast in Jerusalem every year. Jesus turning 12 was a special year. Jesus became a ‘Son of the Law’, celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish doorway between childhood and adult life.

The story continues with Mary and Joseph leaving for the return journey to Nazareth, each thinking that Jesus was with the other parent. The women often left earlier than the men because the men could usually walk faster. When they camped for the night, they realized that Jesus was not with the group. This teaches us something about the virtues of family life. Family life is not just about the nuclear family, about mom and dad and the child or children. Family life is also about extended family and friends. My own grown children still call two of my oldest and best friends, Uncle Andy and Uncle Frank. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. It would’ve been easy for Mary and Joseph to assume that Jesus was travelling with some of their extended family or friends.

When they realized that Jesus was not with them, they hurried back to Jerusalem. Imagine their anxiety when they discovered Jesus was missing. Imagine their relief when they found him. ‘After three days they found him in the temple among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.

Here we have Jesus the student, for every teacher must first be a student. The story is filled with the humanity of Jesus. He is not in the temple lecturing and teaching the Torah scholars about the correct meaning and interpretation of the law. Instead we have Jesus discovering and waking up to his own identity and mission. This is Jesus’ coming-of-age, Rite of Passage story. So absorbed in the back and forth of the learning experience that he hardly noticed that he had lost contact with his family.

What is the response of Mary and Joseph? ‘When his parents saw him, they were astonished; and Mary said to him, ‘child why are you treating us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety ‘. This is the only story we have about Jesus getting in trouble with his mother. So absorbed with the adventure of learning, he seems to have no idea of the anxiety that he has caused. In complete innocence he responds, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Fathers house’? Jesus is beginning to recognize his own identity and mission and how it is grounded in his relationship of family intimacy with the Father.

Jesus also recognizes that in order to cultivate this relationship of intimacy with God, he needs to be a student of Scripture. What is the response of Mary and Joseph to this shift in their Sons’ sense of himself? ‘But they did not understand what he said to them ‘. It often takes parents longer to recognize the growing maturity of their children, and their attempt to discover their own shifting identity. A typical story of family life. Jesus is of course not a typical teenager, as we would understand that term today. In the ancient world people moved rather quickly from childhood to adulthood.

Jesus did not suddenly become an independent adult away from his formation in the circle of family and friends. The story continues, Jesus goes back to Nazareth, ‘and was obedient’ to his parents. Of his life in Nazareth it tells us, ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in favour with God and human beings ‘. A familiar virtue of family life. What all of us wish for our children. That they grow mature and flourish into their full stature as human beings.

How do we know this tiny story from Jesus’ Bar Mitzvah year? ‘His Mother treasured all these things in her heart ‘. Mary was worried and upset when they lost track of Jesus. But she was wise enough and full of grace, to recognize the treasure she had in her Son, and to rejoice that he was beginning to discover his own identity and mission.

Each one of us can be a little bit like this 12-year-old Jesus. Standing at the doorway of our own discovery of our identity and mission as disciples of Jesus. Called to be apprentices, learners, disciples of this 12-year-old boy and his parents. From them we can learn the virtues that we should bring to our lives as families. What are some of these virtues that we can take away from this story? The virtues of studying, of learning, of taking responsibility for those given to our care, of obedience to our parents. The virtue of recognizing the gifts of the other people in our lives. The virtue of treasuring memories and storing them in our heart. Even worrying and having anxiety about those we love is a normal part of family life.

All this teaches us about the virtue of staying close to Jesus, of cultivating a relationship of intimacy with him, of participating in his own identity and mission. This is the core of being a missionary disciple, participation in the mission of Jesus. Together with him sorting out our relationship with our earthly parents, a lifelong task. Together with him learning how to cultivate a growing relationship of intimacy with God. A relationship that Jesus himself makes possible in his own journey to missionary maturity.