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DECEMBER 30, 2007: The Holy Family


Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14
Colossians 3:12-21
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

A friend recently told me that at one point during a parish council meeting she referred to Jesus being Jewish. Her remark caused another member of the council to blurt out, "He wasn't a Jew, was he?"

In this age of widespread religious education, it's hard to imagine the historical Jesus' "Jewishness" being off any Christian's radar. My friend's experience proved otherwise.

Though most of us (except for that one parish council member) acknowledge Jesus' earthly ministry revolved around reforming Judaism and not setting up a church as we know it, it's still difficult for some to recognize the Jewishness of many of our Christian sacred authors. We've probably heard it more than once, but we just don't remember.

In this December's National Geographic cover story on memory, Joshua Foer writes, "Most of the things that pass through our brains don't need to be remembered any longer than they need to be thought about." The things we choose to remember are in our brains to help us "develop a sense of what is happening in the present and what is about to happened in the future, so that we can respond in the best possible way." For a person of faith, the Jewish environment of our ancestors is a "keeper." It not only helps us better understand their faith; it provides a path for us to travel in both the present and the future of our own faith.

Family is an essential component of any Jew's life. That's evident when we hear Sirach's words in our first reading. He speaks about children's relations with their parents. "God sets a father in honor over his children, a mother's authority he confirms over her children. . . . Those who revere their father will live a long life; those who obey their father bring comfort to their mother." A life without good family ties is an unfulfilled life.

All students of the gospels immediately recognize that Matthew is the only evangelist who writes for a _Jewish_/Christian community. That's why his Jesus - the new Moses - must somehow come out of Egypt and travel to the Promised Land. It also explains why God's angels employ dreams to communicate with Joseph; a trademark of his namesake's communications with Yahweh in Genesis.

But in this period of mandatory celibacy for the Western Church's priests, it's easy for some to forget that Matthew presumes Jesus would have been raised within a normal, protective, nurturing Jewish family. (That could be the reason Matthew deliberately omits Mark's chapter 3 narrative describing Jesus' mother and brothers' attempt to "seize him" because they thought he was "out of his mind.") Matthew's Jesus could never forget his Nazareth family roots even when he was forming a new family of faith. He was Jewish.

Though a majority of Pauline scholars contend the Apostle didn't compose Colossians, they agree it contains many of his thoughts, especially his belief on how faith is to be lived within a family context. For Paul, family is at the heart of any Christian community.

Paul and his followers knew little of our modern concepts of equality, especially when the question of husband/wife and parent/child relations are addressed in our Colossians pericope. Today, having been made aware of horrible cases of abuse, we can find all sorts of exceptions to wives being subordinate to their husbands, or children obeying their parents "in everything." Yet no family can exist and evolve in any point of history unless its members are driven by "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another."

No matter how family relations have changed over the centuries, they're still the litmus test, helping us judge whether or not we're living an authentic faith, and providing us with memories which most shape who we are.