Word of God and Salesian Life Fr Juan Jose’ Bartolome’ SDB
Holy Family. Year C Lectio divina on Lk 2,41-52
Luke does not narrate an episode which combines the filial submission of Jesus to his parents at Nazareth and his absolute obedience to the Father in the Temple at Jerusalem. Jesus’ attitude was not understood by his mother. We see her at first very distressed by the loss of her son and then, later, surprised by the independence of a child who was becoming adult. As Jesus grew up, Mary began to feel that he was no longer only her son. Instead, she saw the Son of God growing up. His parents noticed the child’s closeness to God but this was not the cause of their lack of understanding. In their eyes, he was growing at the same time as man and as the Son of God.
We can learn a lot from this. From his family’s point of view, Jesus was lost because he was concerned about the things of God. From Jesus’ point of view, his parents had to accept a decision which implied renouncing his family inheritance. Harmony prevails in a family when all accept their respective roles. Mutual respect is essential in every family that wants to follow God’s will.
41 The parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; 43 and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; 47 and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” 49 And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.
Read: understand what the text says, focussing on how it says it
Luke is the only evangelist who says anything about Jesus as an adolescent. The episode of his getting lost and being found in the Temple at Jerusalem (Lk 2,41-52) concludes the gospel account of his infancy. For the evangelist, this is more than a simple episode. It is the preamble of the personal mission of Jesus. The incident in itself was one that might easily have been overlooked. The parents of Jesus did not see anything special in their son … until the day he got lost! Far from just an unfortunate accident, it was a forewarning of the time when he would be lost definitively. By declaring publicly that he was the Son of God, Jesus ceased to be the son of Mary and Joseph. The relationship that had begun with an infant in Mary’s arms (Lk 2,12-16) had now come to its natural end. He who was first an infant (Lk.2,17 27-40) and a son (Lk 2,43) is now seen to be the Son of God (Lk 2,49).
As in the preceding incident (Lk 2,21-39), the Temple is the central place of the revelation of the personal mystery of Jesus. The account follows the same model: they went up to Jerusalem (Lk 2,42; cf 2,22), revelation of Jesus (Lk 2,46-47; cf 2,30-31), a comment about his mother (Lk 2,48; cf 2,39), and their return to Nazareth (Lk 2,51; cf 2,39). The centre of the episode, and the key to understanding it, is the double question put by Jesus to his mother (Lk 2,48). Mary is unable to understand either the fact of his getting lost or the reason given by her son (Lk 2,50). Jesus’ reply reveals all that has already been said about the child. The difference is that now it is Jesus who defines himself: he is the son of another Father whom alone he must obey.
This episode constitutes the final conclusion of the infancy narrative. As soon as he reaches the age of majority, Jesus speaks for the first time as the Son of God, with full awareness of his mission.
What the angel said (Lk 2,1-20) and what Simeon saw (Lk 2,21-22) are now confirmed by Jesus himself as he grew up. He can still grow in human wisdom (Lk 2,52), but he now knows the most fundamental thing , that God is his Father (Lk 2,48). The time and place of his declaration are important. Before submitting himself to the law of God, Jesus acknowledges that he is the son of God and is concerned about the affairs of God, and he does so in his Father’s House.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The mystery of the nativity that we are celebrating in these days, is presented to us today from a different point of view. God-with-us chose to become a man like us. Like all of us, at his birth he was accepted into a family as a son. The Feast of the Holy Family is therefore, the logical consequence of the Incarnation we believe in. The family of Nazareth is more than just a model of life for us. It is the everyday expression of the will of God to be close to us. So much did he desire to be like us, that he became the son of a mother and father who, at the beginning, were not altogether sure about wanting a son. Mary was a virgin and was not yet ready to become a mother. Being part of God’s family came as a surprise to the parents of Jesus. All this happened because God wanted to become a son of men, like each of us. God wanted to be a normal man and to belong to a family where he could learn to become a man. This was his way to become a God who was our brother, part of our family.
We might be a bit surprised at God’s decision to come into our world as a member of a family. However, we should take seriously this decision of God to become incarnate among us, and to live in a world where the family is under threat in a thousand ways. For anyone who believes in Jesus, God-with-us, it should be evident that a society that does not love the family cannot be considered a Christian society. We can have no part in a culture or politics, in ideas or interests, that do not serve the family. And unfortunately, it is not always others who are the enemies of family life. We are often the most to blame when it comes to damaging the family – when we fail to promote it, when we do not take care of it every day, when we do not respect the family and work every day to maintain its unity. A Christian has many reasons to dissociate himself from every plan or project that weakens family life. And they are not reasons that we have invented. They were given to us by God when he chose to become man as the son of Mary and Joseph. They are not just simple traditional values to preserve what we consider a good way of life. As Christians, we are much more than simply preservers of traditional values. We are first and foremost believers in the God of Jesus. God came to us in a human family. The family of the child in the manger was the sign given to the shepherds to lead them to salvation. A star guided the pagan magi and, in doing so, led those who were furthest away from God to meet him in his family. The Christmas crib welcomes us and in the crib we meet God, where his family lives, united by God and by him alone.
It is not surprising that we find it hard to meet God when we, like so many of our contemporaries, continue to search for him where he is not to be found, far from family life. Let us return to family life. Let us get back to seeing the family as something we must work for, as a goal in life and as a sacrifice we offer to God. Our Christian God is a family God who chose the family – his family and ours – as the place of his presence in our world. He did so at the first Christmas and this Christmas reminds us of that. If we are not good parents or good children, we should not deceive ourselves into thinking we are good believers in God who became man, and became the obedient son of a young couple.
We risk fooling ourselves . If we do not meet God in the heart of the family, it will not be easy for us to share his life. The gospel account makes it clear that the family of Mary and Joseph with Jesus, the incarnate God, was not free of misunderstanding and sorrow. They had the same difficulties as every other family. In every son, in every family, Jesus is always different, far removed from our petty preoccupations, always attentive to his Father’s affairs. It is significant that Mary, the mother chosen by God, suffered the experience of losing her son for a time, the son who was really the Son of God. Are we not moved by the fact that Mary had this experience, when we ourselves so often lose Jesus and don’t know how or where to find him? And when she did find him, she had to recognise that this son was no longer hers, he was no longer at her command, from now on he could live without this mother and this family. We can identify with this. How often have we lost God when we thought he was close to us, and that we belonged to his family? How often have we distanced ourselves from him? This family God of ours is not an easy God to live with! Why should he be easy to live with, if we are not easy to live with?
If we know that God belongs to our family, we will search for him as Mary did, until we find him. And we will find him in the Temple, in the place where God dwells. To have lost God a few times, to have alienated him from our family and sent him away, is the best starting point in our search for him. We can learn from Mary. The more we get separated from our family members, the more we risk losing God without realizing it, just because we are more concerned about carrying out our own plans than we are about the plans of the father of Jesus.
We can learn from Mary also how to grieve when we have lost him and how to set about finding him. It is only when we miss something we have always had, that we appreciate how good it was. If we have lost God and are feeling the loss, then we discover how bad it is to live without him and how much we miss him. Knowing that we have lost him is one way, imperfect but sincere nonetheless, of loving him. And it is the strongest reason for us to start looking for him!
If we are not sad at being separated from him, and if we are not prepared to enquire about him from the people we meet on our journey, it is a sign that we do not love him enough to be ashamed of having lost him, and to set about searching for him. We should keep him with us, in the family. This is the best test of what we really desire. Mary is our model as Mother of God also because she sought him sorrowing.
Perhaps this is the journey we have to make, perhaps the only one that is left to us, if we are to return to seek God in our family. We must not waste this chance. We should live our family life in a way that allows us to wait for God to be born. And if, through forgetfulness, we have lost sight of God, let us start looking for him. When we find him, as Mary did, we will respect him and love him all the more. A God that we can easily lose, requires more attention! If Mary had to learn this, then so do we.