Sunday, December 27, 2009

He Went With Them To Nazareth, And Was Obedient To Them.

Reading 1 Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
God sets a father in honor over his children;a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins,and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins—a house raised in justice to you.


Today’s First Reading is taken from the book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, which is found in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, but not in the Hebrew; both Hebrew and Greek books are considered by the Church to be the revealed word of God.
Sirach has many good things to say about living according to the Torah – the Law of God, based on a fundamental principle: Relating with another person, or with anything in the world, is relating to God, who created the world, and the people who live in it.

Today, we hear him advise his children on the obligations of parents toward their offspring, and at the same time, of the obligations of grown children toward their aging parents: The verbs “honor”, “revere”, “obey” are words of action. These actions are ways in which God blesses those who perform them, reminding parents that their children are sources of happiness in this world, and of eternal bliss in the next. In the Old Testament, the vocation of married couples as the parents of the next generation is central to the covenant between God and his people. But in this day and age, as well, the family must remain in a reverent relationship with God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, and with each other in order to experience the blessings in their fullness.

In this reading, there is no mention of daughters, and little about mothers. It is difficult for people today to hear that the father’s seed is the source of life, and the mother’s womb is the fertile ground in which it is planted. Our knowledge the process of human reproduction is greater than theirs, but our spirituality is the same, since God’s truth is one, only its expression is different from age to age: All human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to the moment of death, because it has its living source in the True Life of the Trinity, which knows neither beginning nor end. Human life is a sharing in God’s life, and we must care for it all.

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Responsorial Psalm 84
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
Happy they who dwell in your house!
Continually they praise you.
Happy the men whose strength you are!
Their hearts are set upon the pilgrimage.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
O LORD of hosts, hear our prayer;
hearken, O God of Jacob!
O God, behold our shield,
and look upon the face of your anointed.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

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Second Reading 2 Corinthians 2:12-17
Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


How can the members of God’s family fulfill the responsibilities of Christian love, within their own families, and within the greater community of God’s people, unless we learn to think of others first, and do our best to meet their needs before our own need? How can we obtain the graces necessary to fulfill our responsibilities as members of our own family and of God’s family, except by prayer? How can this be done unless God, our Heavenly Father, has the first place as the leader and guide of our family – and of our own life? When the members of a family give first place to God, and pray for the graces we need, children learn to honor their father and mother; husbands and wives learn to love one another as Christ loves his church; and the Holy Spirit brings his gifts of joy and peace to everyone.

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Gospel Luke 2:41-52

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.


The religious traditions in Jesus’ day were ways of relating to the supremacy and holiness of God. Passover was the ultimate celebration, recalling the time when God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, and brought them into the Land of Promise. Every year, at this sacred time, families would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate this festival as a reminder of their sacred history.

In today’s gospel, just two days after we celebrated his birth, Jesus, now twelve years old, accompanies Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem. He is fulfilling Jewish tradition by honoring his father and mother, and by reverencing their religious customs and the tradition of going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover at the Temple of the Lord.

But now, a break in the tradition takes place. Jesus, for the first time in his life, does not conform to the religious custom. While his parents set out on the caravan back to Galilee, he remains in the Temple, and even more unusual, begins to question the leaders whose religious teachings and legal precepts are central to the Jewish tradition. Eventually, his parents find him, question his behavior, and after hearing his rather mysterious reply, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he returns with them to Nazareth and for the next eighteen years, observes the religious tradition of reverence and respect for parental authority.

Some might wonder whether Mary and Joseph felt not only worried when they realized he was not in the caravan, but ashamed at his misbehavior and lack of respect for them, and for the tradition. Was the reason he went back to Nazareth and was obedient because he got a “good talking-to” when they got home?

I have news for anyone who thinks that way: Holiness does not do shame. Shame is what the First Family felt when they had to put on clothes because they became aware of their nakedness. Shame is what all of us do to hide our true selves, lest our true condition be seen. Adam and Even did not need to worry about their neighbor’s opinion of them – they had no neighbors; but since then, we humans tend to worry more about how we appear in the eyes of our neighbors than how we stand in the sight of God.

Jesus remained in the temple as the first step toward the fulfillment of his mission: reversing the human experience from shame to holiness. He would live his entire life, including his seemingly shameful death, in order to redeem us and to transform us from being God’s Shameful Family to God’s Holy Family. Throughout his life on earth, Jesus would challenge everyone he met about their personal hang-ups or their group cover-ups, and invite them to know and to accept their true selves, as his younger brothers and sisters, the children of God His Father and ours.


Sarah in the tent said...

At Cana, Our Lord revealed His glory out of respect for His mother, despite the fact that His time had not yet come. Maybe the decision to return from the Temple was a similar revision of the plan. In particular, I think Joseph must have been hurt by the words: in my Father's house. Maybe Jesus' felt his stepfather's humiliation and resolved to be a son to him too.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, the story of the wedding feast at Cana is told only in the Gospel of John, whose gospel was composed several decades after the other three. Their perspective was to give an account of events as they occurred. His was to present a theological reflection on the Word of God made Flesh, who dwelt among us, sacrificed his life to ransom us from our sinfulness, and open for us the way to eternal life.

The wedding feast at Cana presents another aspect of John's perspective: the role of the Blessed Mother as an intercessor on behalf of her Son's human brothers and sisters.

Since Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine we might say (speculatively) that what his mother asked him to do was not a part of the plan in his mind on that day. On the other hand, since Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, it was most certainly in the divine plan that he would change water into wine at Cana at his mother's request.

I don't believe that Joseph was offended or humiliated by Jesus' response to his mother in the Temple. He was very well aware of who the Father of Jesus was, after all. He had been told by Gabriel in a dream not long after he found out that Mary was with child. His attitude was humble, but he was not humiliated. And Jesus was resolved from all eternity to be a son to him, as long as he was in his care.