Sir 3:2-6, 12 – 14 (A, B, & C) Col 3:12-21 (A, B, & C) Lk 2:41 – 52..Family Life: Dream and Reality
Good Family Relationships.
The author of an essay called “What Is a Boy whites that all boys have the same creed: to every second of every minute of every hour or every day to protest with noise (their only weapon) when their last minute is finished and the adults pack them off to bed a night.
The essay says that a boy is a composite – he has the appetite of a horse, the digestion of a sword swallower, the energy of a pocketsize nuclear bomb, the curiosity of a cat, the lungs of a dictator, the imagination of a Paul Bunyan, the shyness of a violet, the audacity of a steel trap, and the enthusiasm of a firecracker.
Today’s Gospel episode is the story of the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple – a story that makes us question whether Jesus was like other boys The Jesus’ parents every year went to Jerusalem for the great feast of Passover (v. 41) showed them to be deeply pious. They trained their son to be the same. At this time, only the Jewish men who lived in Judea, and were thus close by, were obliged at all. But many who weren’t strictly obliged often attended our of devotion.
On this twelfth birthday, a young Jewish male became Bar Mitzvah, “a son of the Law”, and assumed the obligations of the Mosaic Code. It was the age when a boy began the practice of his chosen trade. We can well imagine how the Holy City, the Temple precincts, and the sacred ritual fascinated the boy Jesus.
When an Eastern caravan like the one for a Passover celebration got under way, all was noise, confusion, and excitement. Usually the women started earlier than the men each day, because their travel was slower. The two sections wouldn’t meet until both had reached the evening encampment. It wasn’t through carelessness, then, that Mary and Joseph missed Jesus. No doubt Joseph thought he was with Mary and Mary though he was with Joseph (v. 43).
During the Passover season, it was the custom of the Sanhedrin to meet publicly to discuss religious questions for all who were interested. The Rabbis sat on a chair with their pupils sitting on the ground at their feet. Jesus, searching for knowledge like an eager student, was listening to them and asking them questions (v. 46).
Upon ﬁnding the child Jesus, Mary, like any mother ﬁnding a lost child, was probably torn between hugging and spanking him. She informed the young Jesus that Joseph and she had been looking for him with great anxiety (v. 48). Jesus deftly took the name “father” from Mary’s imputation of it to Joseph and gave it to God: “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house (namely, the Temple)?” (v. 49).
This was Jesus’ first recorded public utterance, and it reveals that his reﬂections had led him to knowing something of who he was. When did that moment arrive that he knew himself to be different — unique? As Jesus grew older, he continually manifested greater graciousness (v. 52) because, like all thinking people, he grew in wisdom. As God, Jesus had inﬁnite knowledge. As man, his mind could advance in experiential knowledge. And God intended many lessons from Jesus’ “hidden life” in Nazareth — for one, the lesson that prominent and brilliant successes aren’t essential elements of a noble life. Millions of the beloved of God are to be found among the obscure. But, as Luke’s Gospel says, he grew. Growth is a part of human existence, and Jesus realized its fullest possibilities.
Lest we think that Jesus’ words to his parents showed undue independence, Luke stresses Jesus’ obedience toward them (v. 51). Whatever he knew of his special relationship to God, it didn’t cause him to look down on his parents, the gentle Mary and the hard—working Joseph.
All of that accords with the best of Jewish teaching. About two hundred years before Christ, when the book called Sirach put together wise counsels on how to lead a life pleasing to God, it contained today’s section on the relationships between parents and children. This passage is a detailed commentary on the only scriptural command that has a reward attached. Honour your father and your mother, that you may have a long life (Ex 20:12). Sirach adds the religious motivation that those who honour their parents atone for sins (vv. 3 and 14). That’s a reward more amazing than “long life”. In fact, it suggests the substitution of “full life”. Jesus, for example, didn’t have a long life. But his life was certainly full.
Sirach, though, seems to be talking not so much about young children as about the duties of adult children toward their aging parents. With people living longer in our society, those duties are today very complex. There’s a cult of youth and beauty in our society and an often barely veiled intolerance of the old.
A story’s told of an old man who had lost his wife and lived all alone. He had worked hard as a tailor all his life, but misfortunes had left him penniless, and now he was so old he could no longer work for himself. His hands trembled too much to thread a needle, and his vision had blurred too much for him to make a straight stitch. He had three sons but, all grown and married now, they were so busy with their own lives that they only had time to visit their father once a week.
Gradually the old man grew more and more feeble, and his sons came by to see him less and less. “They don’t want to be around me at all now,” he realized, “because they’re afraid I’ll become a burden.” He stayed up all night worrying what would become of him, until at last he thought of a plan.
The next morning he went to see his friend the carpenter, and asked him to make a large chest. Then he went to see his friend the locksmith, and asked him to give him an old lock. Lastly he went to see his friend the glassblower, and asked for all the old broken pieces of glass he had.
The old man took the chest home, ﬁlled it to the top with broken glass, locked it, and put it beneath his kitchen table. The next time his sons came for dinner, they bumped their feet against it.
“What’s in this chest?” they asked, looking under the table.
“Oh, nothing,” the old man replied, “just some things I’ve been saving.”
His sons nudged it and felt how heavy it was. They kicked it and heard a rattling inside. “It must be full of all the gold he’s saved over the years,” they whispered to one another.
They decided to take turns living with the old man. So the ﬁrst week the youngest son moved in with his father, and cared and cooked for him. The next week the middle son took his turn, and the week after that the eldest son. This went on for some time.
At last the old father grew sick and died. The sons gave him a nice funeral, mindful of the fortune they thought was sitting beneath the kitchen table; they felt they could afford to splurge a little.
When the funeral was over, they hunted through the house until may found the key to the chest, and unlocked it. Of course, they found it full of broken glass.
“What a rotten trick!” yelled the eldest son? “What a cruel thing to do to your own sons!”
“But what else could he have done?” asked the middle son sadly. “To be honest with ourselves, if it weren’t for this chest, we would have neglected him until the end of his days.” The eldest son tipped the chest over to make sure there was nothing valuable hidden there. The three brothers stared silently at the bottom, where they saw an inscription that read, “Honour thy father and mother.”
Along with Sirach, today’s passage from the letter to the Colossians Shows the shape of a happy home. It’s from a section that exhorts Christians to live their baptismal life. During the ceremonies of baptism, the candidates took off their old clothing, a sign of their former way of life, and put on a white garment, a sign of Christ’s life. The letter lists the garments that must be put on for the Christian to live a life in community with others. The beautiful advice on the social virtues that should characterize our response to God through Christ is especially applicable to family life.
To the letter’s list of “Household Rules” of ethics: there might today be other applications and tomorrow still others, as needed, but for all time the key phrase is “in the Lor Pictures like submissive wives (v. 18) and nagging fathers (V. 21) may need explanation, but “in the Lord ” never changes.
Those who don’t like the advice given — about submissive wives, for instance — should look at the passage carefully. What’s presented here is something new in all the world up to that time: an ethic of reciprocal duties. The words “one another”, for example, are repeated three times (vv. 9, 13, 16). Remember that at that time under Jewish law a woman was a thing, the possession of her husband. A man could divorce his wife for any or no reason. In Greek society —- the society of the culture of the time —- a respectable woman had to lead a life of seclusion. She was never to be seen on the streets alone, even for mar— keting, and she was in complete servitude to her man. Under both societies’ double standard there was no reciprocity. All the privileges belonged to the husband, all the duties to the wife.
For the Christian, the wife is to be a support to her husband (v. 18), yes, but the husband is to love his wife (v. 19). Therefore the husband is to practice the virtues of those who share Christ’s life (v. 12): heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness (v. 13) — all of them essential for family life. Over all of them the Christian should wear the most important garment of all, love (v. 14). Christianity is, above all, community — togetherness in the body of Christ (v. 15).
The same reciprocity applied to children. Under the Roman law of the time the parents were dominant, especially the father, whose patria potestas gave him the power to make his child work like a slave, or to sell his child into slavery, or to condemn his child to death, or to do whatever else he wished. Under the new dispensation, children are to obey their parents (v. 20), yes, but the duties are in both directions, and in the Lord. These brand new precepts mean an awareness that Jesus is always an unseen presence in the family.
May God teach us the sanctity of human love, show us the value of family life, and help us to live in peace with all the human family.