We just completed a series where we discussed walking in the light. As followers of Jesus we are followers of the light and we want to be seen. We live in a way that the glory of God is seen through us. For Jesus glory begins with loving one another. Do we just love in family or does our love know no boundaries.
This weekend ritual churches call for a celebration of the Holy Family. The Holy Family is the life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as we see reflected in the gospels. It is one of the few celebrations in the church about family. For the most part Jesus speaks about building community and leaving behind family. His example is to leave family and build community, he began his public ministry selecting disciples to help in the work of sharing his message. A message to love God, love others and share this message. Jesus wants us to “love all others” including our families but not exclusively our families.
This week the readings center on family. Sirach in the first reading challenges us to be observant and reflect on life so we may discover the best route to happiness. He wants us to recognize we can learn from our parents. Paul calls us to love, he doesn’t speak about a boundary of love that ends at bloodline, he wants us to love and respect all. It is through love that we are led to God. The gospel readings demonstrate the obedience of Joseph, caring more about people than ideals. He ignores certain laws to love and care for his family. We celebrate family but are challenged to find Jesus’ true teaching on family. It seems Jesus wants to create a new kind of bond based on love, regardless of bloodline. Loving others is not a family business only. Jesus challenges is to love all others as much as we love any one other.
The readings this week for most ritual churches are from the Lectionary for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph; Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23. The readings help us celebrate family but also call us to challenge the idea that bloodline is a natural boundary for love.
The first reading is from Sirach a wisdom book named after the author of the material. The overall theme of the reading suggests those who are observant and reflect on life will discover the best route to happiness. Here it focuses on the relationship between children and their parents; honoring one’s parents brings blessings and long life. It naturally leads to highlighting the law handed down from Moses; “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and that you may prosper in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) Also known as the fourth commandment. We might struggle with this word obedience today. It seems to imply taking away freedom. But the reading teaches it is the best way to learn, to live long and to prosper. We can learn much from our father and mother, if for no other reason than their love for us and their experience far outweighs anything we could find anywhere else.
In the second reading from Colossians Paul speaking to the baptized asks them to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient with one another and overall to be loving as it is the bond of perfection. Paul infers if we love than we will be obedient, because love aspires to do all for the one who is loved. Letting the Word of Christ dwell in us we are able to be wise and teach, we can sing psalms, hymns and songs with gratitude to our God, thankful for all we have through him. Paul also includes the family obedience discussed in the reading from Sirach, with the same thought, obedience leads to growth for all. Paul calls us to love and to use love to lead others to God. Paul knows growing toward God is important and he uses this letter to help teach those who will hear.
In the gospel Matthew tells the story of Joseph leading the family. Joseph is told that Jesus is in trouble and to take the family to Egypt for safety. Egypt is a good place of refuge for Jews, it was under Roman rule but outside Herod’s jurisdiction. Herod the Great felt threatened hearing about this new king from the magi and was putting to death all male children under the age of two. We cannot help but recall the saving of baby Moses as Pharaoh was killing the Hebrew male children. Like Moses, Jesus is saved by divine intervention. When Herod dies Joseph is told it is safe to return to Israel and Joseph returns with the family to Israel. Archelaus a son of Herod the Great appointed by Rome as King rules in the region around Jerusalem which Bethlehem was near. Archelaus was a particularly brutal king, he was reported as killing over three thousand Passover pilgrims which sparked revolts in every major district of Palestine. In fact Rome felt he was not a very good King and had him removed from office. So Joseph not wanting to risk living under his rule took the family to Nazareth in the region of Galilee with a different ruler, Antipas. It was a small town in the hills. Matthew writes meets a criteria that the Messiah will be from Nazareth.
The story of Joseph protecting the family shows how vulnerable the baby Jesus, God incarnate was when he entered humanity. He depended on his parents for everything. It demonstrates God’s trust in humanity, that he would put his only son in the hands of these two unknown people, of no particular status in the community, i.e. such as king or priest, etc. Jesus enters humanity trusting and establishing relationship. It also shows how families are dependent on one another. Mary trusted her husband Joseph and Joseph did whatever was necessary to protect his family. The celebration of the Holy Family centers on this trust and respect these two parents had for one another and the love for their son.
Joseph was known as a righteous man. He was seen as a man who believed in community and lived by the Law of Moses. Yet, when asked by God to take certain liberties Joseph trusts God and breaks the rules. The law indicates Joseph should have stoned Mary for her infidelity; however even before hearing in a dream that Mary was carrying a baby from the Holy Spirit, Joseph had decided to quietly divorce Mary rather than bring her any harm or embarrassment. For Jews community was very important, being a member of a community a critically important aspect to their life. Yet, Joseph doesn’t hesitate to leave community and keep his family safe. Joseph is a great example of a Pope Francis’ principle; “people are more important ideals.” As Paul teaches the law is a good beginning but it is not going to lead to transformation, we must love. In any case and at any time we should ask Andy Stanley’s question; “What does love require of me?”
Joseph leads his family by the principle of love. He knows the law but he responds with love. In fact the most prominent stories of Joseph in the gospels are when he is making a decision which could be seen to be the opposite of what naturally feels right for a man of the law. We can learn from Joseph’s small appearances in scripture, love calls us to put people first.
Celebrating Family as a religious feast is difficult for churches who have Jesus as their founder. He doesn’t seem to have much to say on family that makes it a foundational aspect to community life. Jesus doesn’t say anything about his family growing up, although it would be estimated he spent thirty years of his life in private family life. How can he his public years speaking to people all the time and not make a childhood reference or story from his youth? We have one story about Jesus as a young boy, only! Then his time moves forward and Jesus appears as a man ready to begin public ministry. We don’t know how long Joseph remained in the family as we don’t hear any more about the family after Jesus is approximately twelve. We could assume that Mary was a single parent for a majority of Jesus life. Regardless of how long Mary status as Jesus mother doesn’t seem grant her any honor greater than any other disciple in Jesus public life.
When there were times that Jesus spoke about family he seemed almost harsh. A disciple wants to provide basic decency and bury his father before following Jesus, but Jesus tells him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60) When Jesus was speaking about being his disciple he told others, “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Once when he was speaking to a crowd he was told his mother and brothers where asking to speak to him and his response was, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:49-50)
Jesus himself doesn’t create a biological family, he doesn’t speaks at about having a wife or children. He doesn’t deny the worth of family but it doesn’t seem to be his primary means to share the message of his Father or transform people to be followers and disciples. In fact Jesus seems to call upon another birth, being born from above as we hear him saying to the Pharisee named Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)
For a church wanting to celebrate family, Jesus is a challenge. It is why the church looks at the early stories of Jesus infancy and praises the actions and efforts of Mary and Joseph in supporting and loving Jesus. These early stories are all we have about the family of Jesus.
Jesus is looking to make a new kind of unity, or community, where we love more than those to whom we have natural ties, but we love those who we don’t know, maybe don’t like. Jesus challenges us not to love those who love us first, rather love our enemies. It seems Jesus came to establish a new kind a family. If we could ask the apostles what they considered their “group,” would they tell us they were a family?Jesus is looking to make a new kind of unity, or community, where we love more than those to whom we have natural ties, but we love those who we don’t know, maybe don’t like. Click To Tweet
For Jesus things were never natural, the first was last, the greatest were the least. People are valued more than things and laws. Putting others before ourselves is most important and Jesus most prominent example. Even children are put before all others as we see when there was a time while the disciples argued over who is the greatest among them, Jesus places a small child before them and says whoever receives one like this child receives me. (cf. Mark 9:34-37)
Yet as the church began and spread, the family and its value came more to prominence, certainly over the decadence of society that existed at the time of the early church. Widows who had no status were more and more cared for and attended to in the communities of Jesus. Paul taught husbands and wives should be subordinate to each other and love each other as Christ loves the church. The values of any Christian family can be seen as one where the husband is self-sacrificing for his wife and children, the wife gives all to be mother to her children. It seems the natural family is restored to God’s original plan thanks to the influence of the message of Jesus on the world.
I suspect everything Jesus said was calculated. Speaking about family for him wasn’t necessary. He wanted his “love others” message to include family and he knew in family the bonds of love would naturally grow. Our natural tendency is to help family even when we struggle with one another as family. So for Jesus speaking about building community beyond the natural family is the key message that we need to hear. We must love our families but we must love those not in our family as much.We must love our families but we must love those not in our family as much. Click To Tweet
Another reason for the lack of family speech from Jesus could be because Jesus may not want to build his church on the family as a nucleus. Jesus knew familial relationships would become muddled. Family life today is difficult. We are now living in a time when divorce is more common than marriages that last fifty years, marriages include different kinds of couples and some day may be made up of “throuples” and more, life in a house is becoming more a place where people meet rather than forming a home where people share themselves completely because of the necessity of both parents requiring a full-time job just to survive. There are many challenges for the family today and these problems don’t come with solutions that are naturally building loving Christian relationships. The time of seeing every family as a domestic church seems to be falling out of the popular vernacular. Jesus could have predicted this and doesn’t see the church being built on the foundation of family and so he speaks more about love every other, not just people from your same mother.Jesus speaks more about love every other, not just people from your same mother. Click To Tweet
For Jesus there is no boundary made through bloodline, just as there is no boundary made by national borders. Jesus wants us to have a view that all people are to be loved as much as we love any one person. If we love others as Jesus challenges us to love, the family will become stronger as will the community. Loving as Jesus calls us to love which seems unnatural, needs to become natural, a world where all need has a response, all people are loved, all life is valued and all are as happy as we would like to believe the Holy Family is happy.Jesus wants us to have a view that all people are to be loved as much as we love any one person. Click To Tweet