Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Year C) - Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways
St. Stephen, protomartyr
1Sam 1:20-22, 24-28
1Gv 3:1-2, 21-24
COMMENTARY MISSIONARY BIBLICAL
Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Christ, and today we already see him as a twelve-year-old! Immediately after hearing and contemplating the very first sound of the newborn Christ crying in the manger, we hear his very first public declaration, according to the order of Luke’s Gospel accounts! Jesus made it at the moment he became an adult man according to Jewish tradition, and in a particularly solemn context: in the Temple, in the midst of the doctors of the Law, and in front of his earthly parents: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). These are the words of Christ, which the evangelist Luke treats with fundamental importance, because they effectively make explicit the whole meaning of Christ’s existence. They are therefore to be scrutinized, bit by bit, even today, in the joy of the birth of God-among-us, in order to welcome this profound reality and thus gather insights for a Christian missionary life with and in the Lord.
1. “Why were you looking for me?” Thus the twelve-year-old Jesus answered his mother, who, after finding him in the temple, expressed the touching anguish of a mother for her son: “My son, why have you done this to us? Behold, your father and I, in anguish, were looking for you.” Jesus’ response seems harsh, almost incomprehensible and certainly not very “human”. In fact, Jesus, the “Son” is behaving in an extra-ordinary and super-human way. In this regard, it must be remembered that the Gospel accounts are written to convey above all spiritual theological messages, and not to offer the details of what happened as in a video/audio recording to satisfy the curiosity of the readers. Nevertheless, even on the spiritual theological level, Jesus’ behavior here does not seem recommendable as an example for children in the family (especially today on the Feast of the Holy Family, from whom we want to learn how to live and grow in holiness!). Responding brusquely to questions addressed by one’s parents with counter-questions, without paying attention to their anguished hearts? It is also curious to note, in another context when his mother informs him that wine had run out at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ reaction was very similar. He responded, “what is that to you or me, woman”? (Jn 2:4). During His public activities, when informed of His mother’s arrival with the brother-cousins who wanted to see Him, He responded, again with a counter-question, “Who is my mother...?” (cf. Mk 3:33). Was Jesus not very gentle, meek, or obedient in the family?
In fact, the absolute obedience of the son Jesus to his parents, a concrete expression of the honor due to his parents, prescribed in the Decalogue, is never questioned. Indeed, immediately after this response, the Gospel affirms: “He went down with them [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth and was subject to them” (Lk 2:51). Likewise, gentleness and meekness were the characteristics that Jesus ascribed to himself (cf. Mt 11:29).
Why then such a reaction of Jesus in this and other situations? Did he perhaps accidentally forget the virtues mentioned? No, he did not forget them by accident, but for a moment he intentionally left them aside to affirm something much more important! He took advantage of the situation to solemnly announce the reason for his life, that one reason for which he came into the world:
2. “I must be about my Father’s business.” This statement stands out as Jesus’ first verbal revelation to the world about his special “mission”. Each word is therefore dense with meaning and worthy of reflection. First of all, Jesus’ expression “I must” (literally, “It is necessary for me to”) does not refer to some accidental circumstance or compulsion from above, but rather it indicates a readiness to carry out the divine plan entrusted to Him, with all his heart, mind and spirit. From this first time, the expression “I must” continues to resound in Jesus’ mouth during his public activities, as reported particularly in Luke’s Gospel. Of the other 17 recurrences, the most significant is precisely the statement about his passion and death in Jerusalem: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly, be reproved by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, be put to death and rise on the third day” (Lk 9:22). This is precisely the concrete content of the “duty” that Jesus fulfills according to what God the Father has entrusted to him. Jesus’ life is all oriented to a constant “being about my Father’s business [literally, being in the things of my Father].” There are some difficulties in understanding the exact meaning of this expression in the original Greek and therefore it can have various modern translations. A first meaning is that Jesus declares that He must remain in the house of the Father (which is precisely the Temple of Jerusalem) to take care of it; this fits with the context and with the zeal that Jesus will show in the episode of the purification of the Temple. Another meaning could be that He must take care of the works of the Father, as Jesus will declare in another place: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to do his work” (Jn 4:34). Both interpretations are essentially part of Christ’s declaration to God the Father at the mystical moment of his entry into the world that we heard on the last Sunday of Advent: “Behold, I am coming to do your will,” that is, to care for your house and the “things” you entrust to me.
From this perspective, what the twelve-year-old Jesus says reiterates once again the reason for his coming into the world, and the comparison with similar passages gives us a glimpse of something even deeper. When Jesus says that he must attend to “the things of the Father,” he is not only referring to the concrete actions of accomplishing one thing, then another, then another, but also and above all to place his entire life at the Father’s service, attending to his Father’s “business”, as evidenced in the first reading in the case of Samuel, son of Anna: “all the days of his life he [Samuel] is required for the Lord” (1Sam 1:28). In fact, Jesus was already totally “consecrated” to God mystically from the moment of his entry into the world and “formally” from his Presentation in the Temple forty days after his birth. It is therefore a life entirely offered as a “total sacrifice” to God, who no longer likes other burnt offerings and animal sacrifices; a life immersed in God’s mission at every moment, with every breath until death, and death on the cross: “I must”, because “I come to do Your will”, offering myself! Thus, Jesus’ life is all mission! He not only fulfills the mission of the Father, He lives it 24/7! And, as we know, his disciples will be exhorted to live likewise. He will, in fact, say explicitly after the resurrection, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you!” (Jn 20:21).
3. “Did you not know?” These words, in the gospel text, precede Jesus’ mission statement. However, we reflect on them last, thus reversing the order of the sentence, because in reality it is a question that goes beyond the appearance of a rebuke or reminder to Mary and Joseph or, even less, a simple introduction to the content of the revelation that follows (“Did you not know that...?”). It is, rather, a fundamental invitation to constant thinking and rethinking, with the help of the Word of God, about the mystery of Jesus, his person, his mission; the mystery of God made man that always goes beyond every mental scheme and every human knowledge. This was true for Mary and Joseph; it is still true for all of us today, but especially for us Christians and missionaries, sent into the world precisely to proclaim Christ! Here, we need to start from the wise and humble attitude of the philosopher Socrates who affirmed: “I know that I know nothing!”, in order to open ourselves to the newness of God who surely knows how to surprise us always in love. We must follow ever more closely and personally the example of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, humble handmaid of God, and Joseph the Just. Let us not feel offended by the sometimes harsh and incomprehensible words of Jesus, but always keep an attitude of listening and contemplation for the mystery provided. Even though “they did not understand what he had said to them”, Mary “kept all these things in her heart”, that is, all these words and deeds to return to them constantly with thought, mind and heart.
Thus, Jesus’ rhetorical question “Did you not know?” becomes an implicit exhortation to grow in our knowledge of Him and thus in our wisdom to discern and do “the things of the Father.” The Gospel says that after clearly declaring his life’s mission, the twelve-year-old Jesus still “grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.” If it is so with Jesus, God made man, who will dare to claim that he does not need to grow? Who will be so full of himself/herself by leaving no room for divine wisdom in Christ? This warning is particularly relevant for those who think they know everything about Him, those “modern family members” of Jesus, who think they “know” more than Mary and Joseph and therefore do not waste time listening to others, including Jesus!!
Let us, therefore, be attentive! Jesus, God made man, was and is the greatest Mystery ever! We are all called to grow with Him in wisdom, even in this new time and new year that God gives us, to live our lives more wisely and more intensely as children of God, called to fulfill, indeed, to live the same mission as Jesus the Son of the Father: to bring God’s salvation to all, to the ends of the earth! (cf. Is 49:6).