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DECEMBER 31, 2006: HOLY FAMILY

Readings: 

I Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
I John 3:1-2, 21-24
Luke 2:41-52

One of the most important discoveries in the last century and a half of biblical studies is that many of our sacred authors employed "sources."

Those familiar with St. Peter's basilica in Rome will remember the four mosaics of the evangelists above the main altar. Each writer is depicted with the Holy Spirit whispering in his ear, a papyrus scroll and stylus at the ready to record every dictated, inspired word. Modern Scripture scholars now realize such portrayals of biblical writers omit an essential element of biblical authorship. There should be more than one papyrus scroll in the picture. Besides the one on which the author's writing, there are others from which he's copying. Those who composed our sacred Scriptures often used such sources to create their writings. Some are better than others in blending their sources into a unified narrative.

Even as a child, without knowing anything of sources, I realized today's gospel pericope from Luke didn't mesh with the rest of his Infancy Narrative. How, I wondered, could Mary have asked the newly-found boy Jesus in the temple, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." Because of the annunciation in chapter 1, she knew her son was the Son of God. Why would she be anxious about "losing God?" She and Joseph are the one set of parents in history who never had to worry about misplacing their child.

Years later Raymond Brown answered my youthful dilemma. Luke employed at least two different sources for his narrative: one which describes an annunciation to Mary, another which seems to know nothing of such a privileged communication. Fr. Brown was convinced Luke used this latter source in today's pericope.

Not knowing about their son's divinity, Mary and Joseph are logically anxious about losing him. They really didn't ". . . understand what he said to them." No wonder Mary ". . . kept all these things in her heart." Only after Jesus' resurrection would these confusing pieces fit together.

It's important on this feast of the Holy Family to appreciate that some early Christian communities believed Mary and Joseph's relationship with Jesus was quite "natural." Like all parents, they had to discover and appreciate their child's personality and gifts. Their life together wasn't just a matter of taking one predicted step after another. If I knew only this source, I'd presume that at night the two frequently shared and discussed what each of them had found out during that day about their son. If Jesus had "to advance in wisdom and age," I reckon his parents also had to go through the same process in their appreciation of him.

This certainly seems to have been the case with Elkanah and Hannah in our first reading. Though the latter had incessantly begged Yahweh for a son, when Samuel finally arrives, she has no idea what this boy will eventually become. That appears why they dedicate him completely to Yahweh. Since he was a gift from God, only God would know how he should be raised.

The second verse of our I John passage fits perfectly into this discovery pattern. "Beloved," the author writes, "we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed." Not only are we obligated to discover what's "in" those around us, we're also expected to stand in wonder about what's happening in us. Just who are we? What are we to become?

Perhaps the closeness which exists between us and our family members has eliminated the amazement that should be an essential part of all human relations. At no one point of our lives can we completely "psyche out" those who are part of our lives. We can be certain of that because at no point of our lives can we completely psyche out ourselves.

If we think we can, maybe we'd better employ a few other "sources" to help us look at those relations from a different perspective.