Friday, 30 December 2016

Feast of the Holy Family (Year A)

Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 (or Colossians 3:12-21, or Colossians 3:12-17); Psalm 128; Matthew 1:13-15, 19-23

When we think of the family of Jesus we tend to think first and perhaps exclusively of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the trinity that makes up the Holy Family. This trinity is at the heart of the Christmas story and has often been proposed in the Church as the model for the Christian family. Today’s first reading from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) seems consistent with this, and quite modern also in its emphasis on the nuclear family. Honour your father and your mother: it is a way of ensuring your wellbeing and will help you to earn a corresponding respect and affection from your own children.

The gospel reading however expands the vision and obliges us to think of the family of Jesus in much broader terms. We are taken, with the Holy Family, out of Bethlehem, even out of Palestine, in order to fulfill prophecies that speak of the Messiah’s relationships with Egypt and with Nazareth. Being called out of Egypt evokes the entire history of the exodus, the great deed done by the Lord, the God of Israel, in choosing a people to be his own people, in saving that people from slavery, and in establishing them in the land the Lord had chosen for them.

Jesus thus re-traces the journey of the Hebrew slaves. Like Moses and the other male children of the Hebrews, Jesus must be protected from the wicked designs of a despotic king who would kill this son of the Hebrews. Then returning across the same wilderness he re-enters the Promised Land and with his parents settles in some kind of relative peace and security in the north of the country, in Galilee, specifically in Nazareth.

He was to be called a Nazarene, one who comes from Nazareth. Or perhaps it is a reference to his consecration to God, as in the case of John the Baptist and Samson, who were ‘Nazirites’, men set apart as prophets and teachers of the people, dedicated from their infancy to a particular and peculiar service of the Lord and his people.

There is therefore this level of the fulfillment of prophecies in the early experiences of the Holy Family.  The dreaming of Joseph is another link with the early history of the people, and thus with the wider family to which Jesus belongs. Like his namesake in the Book of Genesis, Joseph is guided by God through dreams. He is the protector and guardian of the Virgin and the Child, a good and just man, docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit that he receives in his dreams.  Behind Joseph we glimpse not just the shadow of his distant namesake but the presence of the Eternal Father guiding the first steps of his Son as the work of salvation begins to unfold.

So the family of Jesus is the people of Israel, the people chosen long ago in Abraham, Moses and David, so that through God’s work with that people all the nations of the earth might be blessed.

And so a final extension of the family of Jesus is indicated, one that includes all of humanity since he is to be the Saviour and Redeemer of all. The level of ‘secular history’ or of ordinary historical events operates as well, then, in determining these early experiences of the Holy Family.  There is the presence of tyrannical political power and the need to be prudent in relation to it. There is Joseph’s need for work and the practical reasons why Nazareth would have been an obvious place for a man of his skills to seek employment. The requirement of the census ensures that this family, probably from Galilee, finds itself in Bethlehem when the child is born. The Holy Family experienced migration and exile as so many families have experienced those things during the past year.

The family of Jesus is as extensive as the human race and so his work can only be ‘catholic’, all embracing and universal. At the same time he is not an idea or a theory about universal brotherhood. He belongs to particular people in a particular place at a particular time. This is what makes the Christian hope of universal brotherhood realistic. It springs from a root that is incarnate in the real history off humanity. It grows from a seed sown when this Child was buried in the earth. It is founded on a life flowing since this Nazarene, King of the Jews and Saviour of all people, was called out of Egypt, ‘Egypt’ which is now the kingdom of death. He is called from there in his resurrection from the dead and now leads his people, his family, into a kingdom of life, a heavenly Nazareth where we will be at home with Him, with Mary and Joseph, with the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, with all our brothers and sisters, in a communion of eternal life and infinite love. This is the family life of the Son of God and He came to ensure that we could be part of it.

No comments: