1 Samuel 1:11, 20-22, 24-28, 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24, Luke 2:41-52
On the Gospel, Priority of Family Life
A little boy greets his father as he returns from work with a question: “Daddy, how much do you make an hour?” The father is surprised and says: “Look, son, not even your mother knows. Don’t bother me now, I’m tired.” “But Daddy, just tell me please! How much do you make an hour?” the boy insists. The father finally gives up and replies: “Twenty dollars.” “Okay, Daddy,” the boy continues, “Could you loan me ten dollars?” The father yells at him: “So that was the reason you asked how much I earn, right? Now, go to sleep and don’t bother me anymore!” At night the father thinks over what he said and starts feeling guilty. Maybe his son needed to buy something. Finally, he goes to his son’s room. “Are you asleep, son?” asks the father. “No, Daddy. Why?” replies the boy. “Here’s the money you asked for earlier,” the father said. “Thanks, Daddy!” replies the boy and receives the money. The he reaches under his pillow and brings out some more money. “Now I have enough! Now I have twenty dollars!” says the boy to his father, “Daddy, could you sell me one hour of your time?” Today’s gospel has a message for this man and for all of us, and the message is that we need to invest more of our time in our family life.
The gospel shows us Jesus at the age of twelve. That was the age that every Jewish boy was expected to make his bar mitzvah and so become a responsible subject of the law. It was a ceremony of legal adulthood. From then on he was required to keep the law and make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem like any other Jewish man. One way teenagers celebrate their coming of age is to go out and do those things that the law had hitherto forbidden them to do. You know your boy is growing up when he stops asking where he came from and begins to not tell you where he is going. As we can see, Jesus was no exception. To celebrate his coming of age he attends the Temple Bible class without informing his parents. When his parents catch up with him after two days of searching for him everywhere, all he tells them is, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Even holy families do have their occasional tensions and misunderstandings.
The most puzzling part of the story, however, is the way it ends: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (v.51). The twelve-year old adult Jesus already knows that his mission is to be in his Father’s house and be about his Father’s business. From the test-run he did in Jerusalem earlier that day, it was clear that he was already capable of doing it very well, because “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (v. 47). The puzzle then is this: If Jesus, already at the age of twelve, was ready to begin his public mission, and was evidently well prepared for it, why would he go down with his parents and spend the next eighteen years in the obscurity of a carpenter’s shed only to begin his public ministry at the age of thirty? Were those eighteen years wasted years? Certainly not! In a way that is hard for us to understand, Jesus’ hidden life in Nazareth was as much a part of his earthly mission as his public life. We are reminded that it was at this time that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour” (v.52). And when we reflect on the fact that for every one year of his public life Jesus spent ten years in family life, then we shall begin to understand the importance and priority he gave to family life.
We have two lives, a private or family life and a public or professional one. These two lives should be in harmony but very often they are in tension. Whereas Jesus resolved the tension by giving priority to his private life, we, unfortunately, often try to resolve it by giving priority to our professional life, leaving our family life to suffer. Rose Sands writes about the unhappy man who thought the only way he could prove his love for his family was to work hard. “To prove his love for her, he swam the deepest river, crossed the widest desert and climbed the highest mountain. She divorced him. He was never home.” The celebration today of the holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus reminds and challenges us to value and invest in our private life with our families before our professional life at the work place, even when our job is as important as saving the world.
On the Epistle, We Are Family
A teacher was teaching his Sunday school kids about the importance of the family and things that money cannot buy. “Money can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” he told them. To illustrate his point he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1,000 not to love your mother and father?” The whole class fell silent. Finally a small voice queried, “How much would you give me not to love my big sister?” Evidently it is easier to love vertically than to love horizontally. The love between parents and children or grand-parents and grand-children comes more easily to us than the love between siblings. On this feast of the Holy Family, the second reading reminds us of the need to love one another since we are all children of the one family of God.
When we talk of the Holy Family (capitals letters), our mind goes to the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. But there is another holy family (small letters), the larger family of God, the family constituted by all who call God their Father, the family of the children of God. The reading starts off by reminding us of the great mystery of God’s love which has made us into real children of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). Even though for John the details of our final transformation on the Last Day are not yet clear, two things are clear: (a) we are God’s children now, and (b) on the Last Day, we will become like God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:3). John establishes the fact that we are God’s children, and therefore, we are family. He is not saying that we should or we will be family in the future. No, he says that we are family now. When we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate ourselves as God’s children, for we also are a holy family.
Having established the fact of what we already are, John goes on to point out how we should conduct ourselves in light of whom we are. Being children of God brings with it a twofold responsibility. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23). You can describe this twofold responsibility as faith and neighbourly love, or love of God and love of neighbour. As believers we are God’s children. We are family. But we still have the choice to be true or false members of the family of God. True children of God are those who strive to live by the twofold commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. Here again we see the two dimensions, vertical and horizontal.
The vertical dimension, as we said, appears to be the easier one. It is fairly easy to proclaim one’s faith in God and protest one’s love of God in pious hymns and prayers. The test for the authenticity of our faith claims, however, lies in the horizontal dimension: How do we measure in terms of practical love of our neighbour? John will state this principle more clearly in chapter 4 where he says, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
On this feast of the Holy Family, the Church invites us, through the First Letter of John, to become in practice what we are indeed. We are family, let us live like family. We start by making our natural families into more loving homes. To measure how much you are contributing into making your family a loving home ask yourself how much of the three A’s – Attention, Affection, and Appreciation – you are giving to each and every member of your family. We all need to give, as well as receive, the three A’s in order to love and feel loved. Next to the home, the church should be a family – an extended family – where we give and receive love. Take time today to look to your right or your left and notice a man, woman, teenager or child who could do with a little bit more of attention, affection and appreciation. Sure enough, our neighbour is found outside the home and the church, but if we can start being more loving in the home and the church we would be taking practical steps in living like members of the family of God that we are.