Background on the Gospel Reading
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. This feast is part of the Christmas season, and we should place today’s Gospel in the context of what Luke’s Gospel tells us about the birth of Jesus. Luke has been answering the question “Who is Jesus?” through his stories of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading continues this theme. It has no parallel in the other Gospels and is the conclusion of Luke’s Infancy Narrative.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are presented in this Gospel as a faithful Jewish family. They are participating in the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, an event shared each year with family and friends. When Jesus is found, Luke describes him as seated in the Temple in the midst of the Jewish teachers. Although he is young, Jesus seems not to need teaching about his Jewish tradition. In his dialogue with these learned teachers, Jesus astounds them with his insight and understanding. Jesus is a child of Israel. His Father is God.
The dialogue between Mary and Jesus contains many references to family relationships. In fact, in this Gospel reading Mary and Joseph are never identified by name. Instead they are referred to by their relationship to Jesus. Ultimately, this emphasises Luke’s point about the identity of Jesus. When Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple, they question Jesus and express their anxiety. Jesus replies in words that many have thought to be disrespectful. Jesus says that he was never lost; he was at home. Jesus is God’s Son, and he is in his Father’s house. Luke will continue to suggest that faith in Jesus establishes new family relationships as he describes Jesus’ public ministry.
In Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s importance is even greater than her role as Jesus’ mother. Mary is the first disciple and will be present with Jesus’ disciples after his Resurrection at Pentecost.
Gospel Luke 2:41-52
Mary stored up all these things in her heart
Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.
Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant. He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.
Trusting the truths we don’t understand
“Joy mixed with drama marks the fifth [joyful] mystery,” wrote Saint John Paul II in his encyclical on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae (paragraph #20), as he reflected on today’s Gospel story about Mary and Joseph losing the boy Jesus and finding him in the Temple. “Here he appears in his divine wisdom as he listens and raises questions, already in effect one who ‘teaches’.” This scripture, he pointed out, reveals that Jesus was already wholly dedicated to his Father’s affairs. That’s the first part of the mystery: How early did he feel inspired to serve as the Son of God?
The second part of the mystery, John Paul II explained, is “the radical nature of the Gospel, in which even the closest of human relationships are challenged by the absolute demands of the Kingdom.” Which relationships? Family relationships! In this scripture, Mary and Joseph faced the challenge that every parent experiences. They were “fearful and anxious,” because they did not understand what was happening to their child.
Today, we are like Mary and Joseph in their moment of failing to understand the words of Jesus. His teachings challenge us to accept a more difficult life, a life of doing good to our enemies, taking a stand against injustices, standing up for Christian values, getting persecuted for it, turning the cheek and going the extra mile, a life of courageously adhering to the ways of God. Our preference, when it’s inconvenient or unpleasant to be so holy, is to rationalise and make excuses for any behaviour that the world says is good and right but which contradicts the Church’s scripture-based teachings. However, if we are sincere about following Christ, we are willing to do what is difficult. And it’s usually in the doing that we begin to understand the benefits of becoming more like Christ.
Without this understanding, however, we have to trust that the words of Jesus are truth. Like Mary and Joseph, we need to ponder in our hearts what we do not understand and at the same time move forward in holy living. Then we discover the joy that comes from a life that’s lived wholly in Christ. On this Feast of the Holy Family, let us pray that Mary and Joseph will help us hear Jesus whenever our troubles or temptations get so distracting that we lose sight of him. Let us learn to recognize that Jesus is always present with us in his Holy Spirit, helping us, guiding us, and mercifully loving us, especially in the challenges we face.
Questions for Personal Reflection: What teaching of the Church have you rationalised away so that you don’t have to obey it? Or what teaching of Christ do you excuse yourself from? Assume that your disobedience is due to not understanding what is really being taught. What will you do to seek and gain a better understanding?
Questions for Faith Sharing: How meaningful is the Holy Family to you? What is it about the relationships between Jesus, Mary and Joseph that appeals to you? What has this taught you about Christian living?
Today’s Prayer: Beloved Jesus: Give me the grace of being aware of the ways I stray from You and renewing a firm decision to resume the path which leads me to re-encounter You. Amen.
Lots of people today will tell you what makes a family well-adjusted, functional, and peaceful. But in this week’s readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, which center on two exemplary women, Hannah and Mary, the Church wants to tell us what makes a family holy.
Why did Jesus choose to become a baby born of a mother and father and to spend all but His last years living in an ordinary human family? In part, to reveal God’s plan to make all people live as one “holy family” in His Church (see 2 Corinthians 6:16–18).
In the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, God reveals our true home. We’re to live as His children, “chosen ones, holy and beloved,” as the First Reading puts it.
The family advice we hear in today’s readings—for mothers, fathers and children—is all solid and practical. Happy homes are the fruit of our faithfulness to the Lord, we sing in today’s Psalm. But the Liturgy is inviting us to see more, to see how, through our family obligations and relationships, our families become heralds of the family of God that He wants to create on earth.
Jesus shows us this in today’s Gospel. His obedience to His earthly parents flows directly from His obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Joseph and Mary aren’t identified by name, but three times are called His “parents” and are referred to separately as His “mother” and “father.” The emphasis is all on their familial ties to Jesus. But these ties are emphasized only so that Jesus, in the first words He speaks in Luke’s Gospel, can point us beyond that earthly relationship to the Fatherhood of God.
In what Jesus calls “My Father’s house,” every family finds its true meaning and purpose (see Ephesians 3:15). The Temple we read about in the Gospel today is God’s house, His dwelling (see Luke 19:46). But it’s also an image of the family of God, the Church (see Ephesians 2:19–22; Hebrews 3:3–6; 10:21).
In our families we’re to build up this household, this family, this living temple of God. Until He reveals His new dwelling among us, and says of every person: “I shall be his God and he will be My son” (see Revelation 21:3, 7).