A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

A Family Affair

Parents of families well know the challenge of raising boys, especially as they approach the teen years.  Basically, it is a problem of mutual misunderstanding between parent and child.  Each has an idea that explains the reality in question, and through mutual dialogue and understanding the problem is eventually resolved.

In the Gospel for the feast of the Holy Family (Luke 2:41-52), Joseph and Mary have a bit of trouble with the twelve year old Jesus. They are on their way home to Nazareth from Jerusalem after celebrating the Paschal feast.  While travelling in caravan they assume that Jesus is with them– until they find out that he is not.

This absence becomes a bit of concern as it would for any parent.  “Where is that child?” they undoubtedly ask themselves.  Not finding him in the caravan means that they return to Jerusalem and ultimately encounter him in the Temple,  listening to the teachers and asking them questions.  The parents want answers–and quickly.

The dialogue between Jesus and Mary seems odd in terms of explaining why the child was not with his mother when they left Jerusalem.  Looking for explanations, Mary asks “Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been in great distress looking for you.”  To which Jesus answers “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be about my father’s interests?  (Lk. 2:48-49.  The Greek has the word “tois” which means “things”)

What are the interests (“things”) of the Father?  Keep in mind that Jesus is   talking about his father–in heaven. This is an important theological point for Luke.  God has made a covenant with Israel that is bilateral and conditional. (Exodus 19:1-6)  That is, God and Israel commit themselves to  each other.  “I will be your God and you will be my people IF you keep my commandments.”

So the commandments (the “Law”)  were the binding link in Israel’s relationship with God.  Jesus was to facilitate that relationship by manifesting his dealing with the Law.  In order to see this, we should notice that in spite of the struggle that Jesus had with the Scribes and Pharisees concerning the Law (intent vs. letter of), Jesus early in his Sermon on the Mount stated “Do not  think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.”  (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus’ method of fulfillment was to underscore that the Law was more internal than external.  His life of compassion, justice, understanding, and forgiveness was an example of this.  His life experience was an example to us.

But one thing was important.  That is, that we belong to several families and family members have responsibilities to one another, namely, parents, children, siblings, and relatives.

The families to which we belong are: 1)-The family of God to which we belong via Baptism; 2)-The natural family of parents, children, siblings, and relatives; and 3)-The human family based on the belief that we are all created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27).

This means that we are obligated to respond to the needs of members of our natural and world families because of our membership in God’s family.  After all, it was Jesus our brother who showed us that our responsibility to family members is, above all, a family affair.

 

 

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