I chuckled to myself as I read from Sirach, Paul and Luke in preparation for this writing. The inspired word I encountered reads like a family management manual. I suppose these readings are well-placed on the Feast of the Holy Family, especially in light of some of the family antics that emerged in the midst of our Christmas gatherings. The wife, mother, grandmother and retired teacher in me appreciate their tone. These particular readings tell every family member among us precisely what our roles are in the grand scheme of things. Since we are all family members in some capacity, God’s word speaks to each one of us today.
If you are a little fuzzy regarding these scriptures, look in the Book of Sirach (3:2-6, 12-14). The cited passages designate the particular positions and the particular responsibilities of every family member among us. Fathers hold places of honor over their children, while mothers’ hold unquestionable authority over their offspring. Reverence for ones father draws countless blessings to a child. Mothers who observe this behavior take comfort in the goodness of their daughters or sons. Respectful children fill their households with blessings and they mature into parents who earn the respect of their own daughters and sons. When children are respectful of their parents, this world enjoys the possibility of peace for another generation. This sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? If you have spent any time with children as of late, you realize along with me that they truly possess world-changing power.
In his letter to the Colossians (3:12-21), Paul makes it very clear that family-like behavior is not limited to the family members with whom we live. You see, whether we are surrounded by endless family or we are the sole survivor of our bloodline, each of us is called to be “brother” or “sister” to the rest of God’s children. If we remember that everyone around us –yes, each and every one– is another of God’s children, behaving accordingly becomes much less difficult. We need only to consider the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness which Jesus extended to those around him to discover how we are to treat one another. Each one of us is parent some of the time and child some of the time, and it is our privilege and responsibility to embrace these roles as God asks.
It is also important to understand that God’s request that we behave as family comes with complete understanding of our plights as parents and children. Luke’s gospel (2:41-52) draws us from the ideal to reality when he shares an event from the Holy Family’s life. Though Mary and Joseph do their best to love and to understand their son, they are as puzzled by Jesus as every other parent of a pre-teenager. After celebrating Passover with their Jewish brethren, Mary and Joseph allow Jesus to mingle freely amidst the caravan returning home. Only as night falls do they realize that Jesus is not among them. Because they have taught him common sense and consideration for others, the frantic couple fears the worst. They hurry back to Jerusalem to find Jesus. When they discover him in the temple, Jesus seems bothered by his parents’ worry. He offers a partial explanation and partial scolding when he asks, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The parents among us would have responded in kind regardless of whose house their child thought he had to be in! But Mary and Joseph, they who taught Jesus compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness, practice what they preach. Though they do not understand Jesus’ actions, they take their son home. Jesus, though anxious to begin God’s work among the people, goes back to Nazareth to continue his training “…and was obedient to them.”
It seems to me that it is important for us to recognize that Jesus works at being a good son for thirty years before he begins his three years of public ministry. When Jesus leaves his own family to pursue this ministry, he makes a new family of those with whom he works, prays and plays. It seems to me that our work on this Feast of the Holy Family is to consider God’s Word, to learn from the families from which we have come and to apply that learning to the families in which we live today. Whether we belong to a family of one or one hundred, each of our families holds the potential for our holiness. It is up to you and me to embrace that holiness and to spread the word today, throughout 2013 and always. Happy New Year!
©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved