27 December 2015: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 or
1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or
Ps 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Col 3:12-21 or
1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24
Lk 2:41-52


Holy family: discipleship and family dynamics

On the first Sunday after Christmas the believing community celebrates the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Although homilists often use this feast to extol the “perfect family,” the Lectionary editors present real human families facing everyday issues for us to consider.

For the first reading, we hear a reading from either the Wisdom of Sirach or the Book of Samuel:

  • Sirach advises family members about how to act towards one another, especially fathers and sons. If human families were perfect, Sirach wouldn’t need to remind us how to behave.
  • The Book of Samuel tells us about Elkanah and Hannah, who struggled with infertility. When they finally have their firstborn Samuel, Hannah dedicates Samuel to God’s service “as long as he lives.” Samuel grows up to be an important prophet; he and his family are a type or model for Jesus and his family.

For the second reading, we hear a reading from either the Letter to the Colossians or John the Elder’s first letter:

  • Like Sirach, the author of Colossians advises family members about how to act towards one another–with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
  • John the Elder reminds us that the Father loves us so much “that we are called God’s children.” That is, we are all in the same family: God is Father, therefore we are sisters and brothers and must “love one another as he commanded.”

Luke’s gospel tells the “Jesus in the temple” story. On a road trip to Jerusalem, Jesus is lost and his parents are in a panic. In this very human story, Luke wants us to think about our human relationships and our discipleship:

  • What are we seeking? Luke uses the Greek word ζητέω (“zay-TEH-oh”) three times in today’s passage. ζητέω means “to seek” or “to search for,” it also includes “seeking what one desires to bring into relationship with oneself” and “seeking in order to worship God.” Luke suggests that Mary and Joseph, already disciples because they have heard and live with the Good News himself, search not only for a lost son but also for God’s Word.
  • What does obedience mean? When his overwrought parents finally find Jesus, Mary says, “You father and I have been looking everywhere for you anxiously.” Jesus replies, “Why? Didn’t you know that I’d be about the things of my Father?” Jesus is not giving his human parents adolescent attitude; Luke is asking disciples to think about priorities. While Jesus recognizes Mary and Joseph’s human parental authority, Jesus also knows he must also fulfill his Father’s will. Luke is hinting that discipleship is sometimes ambiguous. He says that the family went to Nazareth and Jesus “was obedient to them.” Luke uses the Greek ὑποτάσσω (“hoo-poh-TAS-so”), which means “under obedience to” or “submitted himself to.” Jesus lives under obedience to a human family that lives under obedience to God’s laws (“Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for Passover, according to custom”). Jesus lives simultaneously in the human community and in the divine community (the Trinitarian God); Luke invites Jesus’ disciples to do the same.

As we gather with family during the holidays, RCIA participants and all of us can hear in today’s readings the joy and challenges of family life. We don’t always get it right, but we can “bear with one another and forgive one another” so that, as disciples, we can “continue to advance in wisdom and favor before God and others.”

–Terence Sherlock


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