By FATHER DONALD DILGER
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Year C
First Reading: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
The first reading gives us the origin of Samuel, the last of the Judges of the tribes of Israel before they opted for a king. The term judge, used of these Israelite leaders, is different than our concept of a judge. They were usually leaders impelled by divine guidance to militarily deliver and govern God’s people in a crisis. They were not always part of ordinary civil government. The times of the judges: approximately 1200-1020 B.C. Our reading begins in the middle of the story, so we need to look at the background. There was a man named Elkanah. He had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children. Hannah had none. Every year the family took their offerings to the shrine of the Ark of the Covenant at Shiloh. After a peace offering was made to the Lord, portions of the animal sacrifice were returned to the offerers. Peninnah cashed in on this because she had many children, while Hannah got only one portion. Peninnah bullied Hannah because “the Lord had closed her womb.” (We see why polygamy is problematic!) Hannah wept and refused to eat. Elkanah tried to comfort her by saying that his love for her was worth 10 sons. Hannah did not think so. Instead, she prayed to the Lord to unlock her womb.
The shrine priest Eli saw her praying with moving lips but no sounds. He thought she was drunk and talking to herself. She explained her problem to him. He blessed her and asked God to grant her petition for a child. In due time, Samuel was born. After the child was weaned, she again went to the shrine with the family with abundant offerings for the Lord. They brought little Samuel to the priest Eli. She explained to Eli how she had been that woman who, a few years earlier, had asked the Lord for a child. Her petition was granted and now, it was her turn. She said, “Now I in turn give him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.” She left her son at the shrine to be trained in God’s service. Why was this reading chosen for the liturgy of this day? There are echoes of this reading in today’s gospel of the visit of the Holy Family a millennium later to the temple at Jerusalem. Both readings are based on family life. Samuel remained at the shrine of the Ark at Shiloh to attend to the service of the Lord, while Jesus remained in the temple at Jerusalem to be about his heavenly Father’s business. As he said to his earthly parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Psalm 84 continues, from the first reading, the theme of living in the house of the Lord. The People’s Response proclaims a beatitude, “Blessed are those who live in your house, O Lord.” The opening words should inspire Christians to gather in their churches on the Lord’s Day, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.” The Psalmist recalls the happiness of those who worship in God’s house. We not only praise God in our churches, we also have our needs. Therefore, the Psalmist adds, Lord of hosts, hear our prayer!
The second reading is from the First Letter of John. The author describes the dignity of living as God’s children. This is possible only because God has bestowed his love on us. There is a hint of persecution, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” Being God’s children now in this world has a greater goal, “What we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Theologians call this the beatific vision. John states the conditions by which one attains this dignity — doing the commandments, believing in his Son, Jesus Christ, loving one another as he commanded us. The result: mutual indwelling — living in God and God in us.
Luke emphasizes the devout Jewish piety of the Holy Family, “His (Jesus’) parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.’ This was one of three major pilgrimage feasts in this order: Passover; Pentecost; Tents (Tabernacles). Passover commemorated escape from slavery in Egypt, passing over the Sea of Reeds or Red Sea, finding freedom in the Promised Land. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was not a single family matter. Whole towns or clans traveled together by foot south to Jerusalem along the east bank of the Jordan River. Jesus was 12 years old, an age considered as a step into adulthood. Like most adolescents, he was beginning to act independently. Since the pilgrims would be mostly known to each other, the young were able to mingle throughout the group. After celebrating the week of Passover, these Galileans began their return home. Mary and Joseph rightly presumed that Jesus was somewhere in the group hanging out with other teens. Night came — time to gather the family — but no Jesus. Oy Vey! Back to Jerusalem.
How and where will his worried parents find their son? They searched the city for three days. Finally, they returned to the temple and found him sitting among the biblical scholars (scribes) listening to their endless debates, asking them questions and answering theirs. Mary and Joseph react as normal parents. His mother protests “Son, why have you done this to us? Don’t you understand that your father and I have been anxiously looking for you?” But there is no “Sorry, Mom and Dad!” Instead a cheeky answer. “And don’t you understand that I must be in my Father’s house?” Rightly Luke adds, “But they did not understand!” Do we? Luke has just told us a catechetical (teaching) story. He points out that Jesus also has a greater Parent, whose authority overrides that of biology and adoption by a human father. Their house in Nazareth was only a miniscule reflection of his Father’s house in Jerusalem. Besides that, Luke is giving us a preview of Jesus’ future interaction with the scribes, some of whom became his friends, while others became his critics. To demonstrate that there does not have to be opposition between parental and Parental obedience, Luke closes the story with these words, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” He adds Jesus’ normal human development. “Jesus advanced in wisdom, age, and favor before God and humanity.”