God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.
My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.
Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
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.
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man.
The late Raymond Brown’s writings and lectures cleared up a lot of the problems I had with the gospel infancy narratives – especially today’s well-known pericope. Even as a kid, this “lost in the temple” passage didn’t make sense. Why would God’s parents miss a second’s sleep over “losing” him? He’s God! He can take care of himself, no matter how old he is or where he finds himself.
Brown helps us understand something all modern Scripture scholars take for granted: our sacred authors frequently employ sources. They don’t begin writing with just a stylus and blank sheet of papyrus in front of them. They have other sheets of papyrus on their desk, papyrus already written on, writings they’ll eventually integrate into their finished work. Sometimes, as in today’s gospel, it’s easy to notice when one source stops and another begins; at times, other sources have been so closely integrated that it takes an expert to point them out.
Luke used at least two different sources for his infancy narrative. He employed one in which the author included an annunciation to Mary, a narrative which had an angel inform the virgin beforehand about the divinity of her son. In the other, exemplified by today’s lost-in-the-temple passage, the writer seems to have presumed Mary and Joseph only found out about Jesus’ divinity after his resurrection. The child’s parents were legitimately worried when he was inadvertently left behind in the Jerusalem temple. They certainly weren’t faking it.
Among other things, these different sources tell us the early church was convinced there’s more than one way to understand the gospel Jesus in our lives – even contradictory ways. Since all the first Christians thought semitically, they were always interested in the both/and of their faith, not the either/or. Such Greek, analytic thinking didn’t hijack the church until late in the second century, long after our Christian Scriptures took shape.
It might especially be good to remember our biblical sources on this Holy Family Sunday. In my limited experience, no two families are alike; each encounters reality in a unique way. Not only do we experience things differently, we react differently, and, in the process, we and things around us constantly change. Physical punishment, for instance, which I simply took for granted as a child, could now get a parent arrested. Thankfully we see implications of our actions today that we never noticed yesterday. As we grow, families grow; and as families grow, we individually grow.
This directly applies to the Colossian author’s command for wives “to be subordinate to your husbands.” Though such a strict marriage hierarchy makes for smooth running, it reduces one partner to a non-entity. (Just as our church hierarchy often does to the laity.) In order to become the people Jesus intends, we need more than just one source commenting on our relationships.
Some behavior is basic Christianity, no matter what’s going on around us. Husbands, for instance, should love their wives and fathers shouldn’t provoke their children. At all times, as other Christs, we should “put on . . . heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience . . ..” And as Sirach insisted, we should never “grieve” our parents. Even if a father’s mind fails, there’s never an excuse for “reviling” him. When positions switch and we’re caring for those who once cared for us, love should always remain.
But once these essentials are covered, each family must make its own path through life. It’s always good to appreciate that fact, especially during today’s feast. If Luke didn’t think it necessary to employ just one source to tell the story of Jesus’ family, then we shouldn’t be content just to employ one way to imitate Jesus’ love in our families.