The Feast of the Holy Family

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“And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and in favor before God and man.” Growing up a Baptist, we read this sentence as, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” from the King James version of the Bible.  I had to memorize that when I was in grade school and I still remember it.  Unfortunately it about the only Bible verse I remember from those days.  I also can’t remember where I left my car keys, but that’s another problem.

Today is (the vigil of) the Feast of the Holy Family.  In just a few hours we’ve miraculously jumped from Jesus’ birth to his twelfth year.  And when you think about it, this single line is about all we really know for sure about His growing up.  He got older.  He got smarter.  And God and the people loved Him.

So why don’t we have any detail about His growing up years?  Apparently he lost His earthly step father during that time because we never hear anything about Joseph after this.  We know Jesus worked in the carpenter shop because in those days the kids always worked in the family business..  But that’s about it.

He might have been a studious kid since he was able to amaze the teachers in the temple with His questions and His answers.  On the other hand, He was the Son of God.  He’s been here since the beginning.  Remember, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” Young Jesus may not have been studious at all.  When the teachers were talking about God, they were talking about Him.

We know that when Jesus began His ministry at the age of thirty, He walked all over the Holy Land, so He must have been in pretty good shape.  Maybe He was a child athlete.  Maybe He played soccer or whatever games they played 2,000 years ago.  He could walk on water.  That would have made Him a pretty good golfer. Or, maybe the greatest joy in his life was to be in the carpenter shop with Joseph, helping him to make furniture.  We just don’t know.

We heard this morning from the book of Sirach, and from Paul’s letter to the Collosians how families are supposed to act.  But those are general things.  Sirach speaks to us about children honoring their fathers and mother’s authority over them.  Sons are to take care of their fathers when they’re old.  I especially like the part that says, “Grieve him not as long as he lives.  Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him.”  In other words, don’t make fun of Dad when he can’t find the car keys.

Paul’s letter contains a passage that still causes controversy today.  “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and avoid any bitterness toward them.  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.  Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.”

Some members of the female persuasion really get their dander up whenever they hear this one, but you have to take the whole passage in context.  Before the wives be subordinate part Paul tells the Collosians to “let the peace of Christ control their hearts.”  He tells them to be thankful.  He tells them to “let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly, as in all wisdom they teach and admonish one another”   He says “Over all these put on love, that is the bond of perfection.

In other words, we should be like Christ.  Every single one of us, male or female, is subordinate to Christ.  But that doesn’t mean that Christ is some kind of dictator, telling us what to do, making our decisions for us, or making us feel small.  If that were the case, then Paul’s advise would be pretty bad.  Nobody wants to be treated that way and none of us has the right to treat someone else that way.  But, as the passage ends, Paul admonishes husbands to “love their wives and avoid any bitterness toward them.”  Again, husbands, we should try to be like Christ.  He’s the Son of God, the only God/man to ever walk the earth, but there’s no record of His ever treating anyone with anything but love, even those who would finally end his earthly life.

Paul’s telling the Collosians, and us, that life is a two-way street.  In a society where women and children were treated as possessions, Paul’s words were controversial but not in the way that some people might think today.  The husband may be the head of the house, but he’s not a king or a dictator.  He is to act with love and without bitterness.  Wives aren’t slaves.  Men follow the Golden Rule.  Treat them with care.

Kids, be obedient to your parents because that makes God happy.  But fathers shouldn’t provoke their children.  Again, practice the Golden rule.  This was radical thought in the days of the Roman Emporers.

So, knowing all this, we have to assume that life around Jesus’ house must have been pretty nice.  But we still don’t know what a day in the life of the young Jesus was like.  Maybe we’re not supposed to.  We have plenty of guidelines in the scriptures.  We heard two of them today.  But for the basic, day-to-day things that go on in our homes, we’re pretty much on our own.

Let’s think about that for a second.  Every human being is unique and different.  Every family, made up of these individual creatures is even more different.  Remember the old Armour Hot Dog commercial, “Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks.  Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox?  God made us that way and He values our differences.  If we knew that Jesus was a straight A student, or that Joseph came home from work every day and read the Torah for three hours, or that Mary was the best cook in Nazareth, would that set a standard for us that we might not be able to meet?

If Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are the Holy Family, does that make the Simpsons the “unholy family”?  Or are they just different.  As dysfunctional as they might be, Homer and Marge are doing the best that they can.  Bart isn’t much of a student, but he has a good heart and tries to be better, but he is who he is.  Homer loves Marge.  There’s no doubt about that.  He may do a lot of things wrong, but there’s never any bitterness toward her.

The Flanders next door may seem like the holier family, the more perfect family, but are they really?  There does seem to be some hypocrisy in the Flanders’ holier-than-thou attitude and Homer and Bart usually see through it.  Only God knows what’s in our hearts, even if we happen to be cartoon characters.  [By the way, did you know that, by actual count, the Simpsons have had more episodes involving God, church, and morality than any show in the history of television?  It’s true.  You can look it up.]

So, maybe God has chosen not to reveal the details of Jesus growing up years so that we don’t try to be something that we’re not, so we don’t become discouraged because we don’t measure up.  Maybe Joseph was like Homer.  It couldn’t have been easy to be  the only person in the family who could sin.  Or, maybe he was like Ned.  Or maybe, probably,  he was somewhere in between.  We don’t know.  And since we don’t know, each of us can imagine that we’re the best dad, or mom, or son, or daughter that we can possibly be.  And you know what.  If we can practice what our readings tell us today, we will be.

So, as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we can also celebrate our own families.  God made each of us and He put us together in families.  Families are the basic unit of our society.  Without them, everything would come to a screeching halt.  Our secular society may make fun of families or try to convince us that a family is something that it’s not.  Movies and TV may try to tell us that traditional families are a thing of the past.  But they aren’t.  God made the world.  He made Adam.  The very next thing He did was to make Eve; not so Adam would have some one to play cards with.  He made her so that the human race would grow.  He didn’t make five or ten Eves so Adam could have a harem.  He made one woman for one man and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”

That’s how families came to be and that hasn’t changed in all this time.  Whether it’s  Adam and Eve, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Homer and Marge Simpson, or Mike and Jan Buckley, we’re all holy families, each in our own way.  Thanks be to God.

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One Response

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