• 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 • 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 • Luke 2:41-52 • Holy Family C ‘13 •
Today the population of Nazareth is about 250,000 people. Jesus would not recognize the place! When he grew up there, it was a backwater, agrarian village in the hills of Lower Galilee with a population of about 200 to 400 peasants. Life for them was hard. They were heavily taxed and had minimal access to resources. Family was everything and their major concern was survival, which depended on maintaining close family bonds. Jesus lived in a humble home, perhaps a cave, and knew the harsh realities of peasant life. When he was a child the Romans reinforced their rule by destroying the nearby city of Sepphoris. It was about five kilometers from Nazareth and as a young adult Jesus and Joseph may have worked on the reconstruction of that city. He knew the harsh realities of peasant life.
Luke tells us it was in Nazareth that “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and his peers.” His experience in Nazareth later helped him proclaim his message in clear and simple language. The images and parables attributed to him reflect those formative years.
He put his family at risk when he left Nazareth, traveling first to the Jordan, then to the wilderness, then among the villages of Galilee and eventually to Jerusalem. The written gospels do not tell us, but our tradition always presumed that Jesus did not seek out a wife to ensure his family’s posterity. That was strange and unusual in the towns of Galilee and probably upset his family and neighbors. Yet women were among his intimate companions and he shocked people with his festive life style.
Luke tells us when “his mother and his brothers came to him they could not reach him.” He said to the crowd, “my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” He totally dedicated himself to “the kingdom of God.” He loved children, knew the tenderness and the affection of friendship, and defended women. He respected those who were powerless, humiliated and deprived of love and dignity. In all he did and said he was proclaiming and living “God’s new reality.”
Today we celebrate the Holy Family. I often thought this feast set the family of Nazareth before us as our model of the ideal traditional family. In emphasizing that I think I missed the boat! This is not what you expect to hear on this feast. It may make you uncomfortable. If so I apologize, but my responsibility is not to make people comfortable but to help us engage the Christ Mystery.
For Jesus, the family is not something absolute or set in stone. His concern was not his own nuclear family but the great human family! His parents did not understand this. His mother reproached him, “my son, why have you treated us this way?
There in the Temple Jesus was not being a typical inconsiderate teenager. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my father’s house.?” His words and behavior at that young age tell us that already then, his prime concern and his life passion was “God’s new reality” – “the human family” the way God wants us to be — a more fraternal, just, and inclusive society. The recent tragedy in the Sand Hook School reminded us that all children are God’s children. We are one family and share a common responsibility for the well being of all children.
So I must temper what I said earlier. This feast challenges you to examine your nuclear family against the background of “the human family and your Christmas experience this year. The gospel provides the best lenses through which to do that. Consider this series of questions.
What does this Christmas tell you about your family? Is your family committed to a better and more humane society? Is the lifestyle of your family superficial? Is your family limited exclusively to your own affairs? Does your family have an insatiable greed for its own wants or does it exhibit compassion and a sense of solidarity with those whose need for basic necessities is real? Is your family dedicated to the promotion of peace above all other concerns?
Only you know and need to be concerned about how you answer such questions.
You are here today. You are sincere in your commitment to imitate Christ. You want your children to know Christ as the model of what they will become. The Risen One is among us here and now, calling us “to grow in wisdom, age and favor before God and one another.”