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Breath of the Spirit

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But perhaps the most important aspect of good family relations is the ability to see something in one another which goes beyond one’s natural vision.

DECEMBER 28, 2014: HOLY FAMILY

Readings:

Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14
Colossians 3:12-21
Luke 2:22-40

What makes families unique is that while each member is constantly relating to other members, they themselves are constantly changing. Whoever tries to understand families is working with moving targets. This applies also to the Holy Family.

If the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is correct when he remarks that Jesus was a human being like all of us except in sin, I presume his relationship with his family was also like ours except in sin. Scholars are convinced for a long time that the gospel annunciations to Mary and Joseph are simply literary devices employed by the evangelists to help us, the readers, understand the implications of the events they’re narrating. That has some disturbing implications. Historically Joseph and Mary would have had no special revelation concerning their son or their own relationship. What Matthew’s angel tells the sleeping Joseph, and Luke’s Gabriel reveals to Mary wouldn’t have been known to them until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Only then did they begin to understand what the two evangelists, writing generations later, not only took for granted but also integrated into their angelic annunciations

Mark, whose gospel contains no annunciations to Mary or Joseph, actually mentions in chapter 3 that at one point Jesus’ mother, along with other family members – including his “brothers” - tried to “seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” I presume such a good intentioned action must have led to some interesting conversations between mother and son. How do you relate to family whom you believe is possessed by a demon?

Like all families, Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived within the restrictions which bind all of us. As good Jews, for instance, they fulfilled their religious obligations, as we hear in today’s gospel pericope. And as ordinary human beings, they were expected to develop ways of dealing with one another. As the Pauline disciple who wrote the letter to the Colossians taught, they had to show one another “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And according to the customs of her day and age, Mary was expected to be “subordinate to her husband.”

This concern for good family relations biblically goes back hundreds of years before the appearance of the Holy Family. Sirach in our first reading wants to make certain his readers reflect on the fulfilling life these relations offer. Of course, as times change, the relationship changes. Notice how the author even talks to a child whose father is in the throes of dementia. “Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him: revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten . . . .”

But perhaps the most important aspect of good family relations is the ability to see something in one another which goes beyond one’s natural vision. Simeon is given this role in our Jerusalem temple passage.

It’s possible that this elderly man took each child he encountered in the temple in his arms and said some of the same or similar words over him or her that are quoted in today’s liturgical selection. He was convinced every child had the potential of bringing Yahweh’s salvation to others. But if one specific child actually carried through on that gift of God, his or her mother had to be warned that a “sword would pierce her” – a biblical idiom for having to make a decision one would rather not make.

I often wonder if Joseph and Mary, like all parents, were really prepared for the decisions they’d have to make about their son. It takes a lot of faith in one another to eventually become a good family. I can only imagine the faith it takes to become a Holy Family.

 

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