12 Oct 2014
“When [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom [to Jerusalem]. (Luke 2:42) In the name …
We’re talking about the Christian family today and you would be surprised how sparse it is when you look in the New Testament trying to find some uplifting thought or story about this subject. I know a lot of people don’t read the Bible and may imagine that it is chock-full of edifying passages about this topic, but they’re simply not there. This is why today’s Gospel selection isn’t about the Christian family; it’s about the Holy Family. They’re not the same – obviously. But it’s the one and only story of Jesus between the time of His birth and some 30 years later and the time of His baptism by John in the Jordan River. At least it deals with family. This account of Jesus as a 12 year old in the Temple is our only tale of Jesus’ family life, and there’s tension there. 12 year old Jesus is already struggling with who He is and where He belongs, and His family is struggling with the same issues. I imagine a young Jesus as feeling almost trapped in the little village of Nazareth. All the other boys are going to become what their fathers are. They’re going to learn their fathers’ trades and then they’re going to work at them until the day they die. And young Jesus could not countenance this thought. He knew there was something more than what Joseph and Mary had, but at 12 I don’t think Jesus knew exactly what it was.
This story of youthful angst and even rebellion is the best that could be found in any of the Gospels for the Feast of the Christian Family, and that’s because there’s just not a lot there to choose from. In an age defined by the family, Jesus is an outlier. He walked away from Nazareth and sought out the community in the desert around John the Baptist. When He eventually returns to Galilee, Jesus doesn’t return to His family in Nazareth. He sets up shop in the little seaside village of Capernaum, and there His closest followers are 12 other men all living together as teacher and disciples. We can read right in the pages of the Sacred Scripture that Jesus’ family disapproved of these life choices. Early in His ministry, they traveled to Capernaum and tried to force Him to come home with them. I’ll read it the way it’s written in the Bible so there’s no confusion: “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21) They don’t get Jesus. They haven’t yet understood His message and ministry. They’re trying to protect Him from Himself.
When Jesus is told that His family is outside of the house in which He is teaching, the response is completely unexpected. Again, so that there’s no confusion let me read directly from the Bible: “‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ And [Jesus] replied, ‘Who is my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:32-35) Jesus is redefining the Christian family in a radical manner. It’s not DNA that defines the Christian family bond; it’s faith. This is exactly why we don’t have a lot to work with today.
Jesus’ example is exceptional. He realized even at 12 that He was different. “‘I must be in my Father’s house,’” He tells Joseph and Mary. And of course, as it says next in the Bible, “They did not understand what he said to them.” I don’t know if even Jesus fully understood what He felt at the age of 12. Jesus did not belong to a family and clan; Jesus belonged to the world. This is why the Christian family is not a Gospel concept. But as the church grew older and settled down, she began to speak of family life the way we understand it today. The only problem with these texts is that they mimic a society that is 2,000 years dead. This is why the church can only find passages like the one read by EJ this morning. First it speaks of children obeying parents and then it moves on to slaves obeying masters as if they’re almost the same. (Eph. 6:1-9) That may have been meaningful in the year 80AD, but it’s not going to inspire any Hallmark cards in 2014. But the deeper message may be that the church was changing and willing to embrace the family life that surrounded her. Jesus gave no lesson on family life. The church learned it from the world around her at the time. Maybe that’s what we need to think about on the Feast of the Christian Family today.
For example, the newest materials offered by the School of Christian Living about this feast day include a picture of the television show Modern Family. If you’ve ever watched the program, you know it’s not about the traditional family, except for the fact that they’re all bound together by love. Maybe that’s the crux of the issue; maybe the Christian family is the family that has love at its core because it has faith at its core standing there right beside it. And maybe faith is giving us a very powerful yet often overlooked message when it comes to this topic. Jesus’ family had to learn how to accept Jesus for who He was. They could not define Him or force Him to be what He was not, and Jesus had to learn how to accept them too. And the earliest church had to learn about family by looking at the families all around her in society at large. So maybe on the Feast of the Christian Family we have to learn the lessons of acceptance and of openness.
I imagine a bunch of my brother priests are mentioning today in an unfavourable light the recent decision of the Supreme Court to let stand the Appeals Court decisions allowing same-sex marriages. I’m not bothered by it. And the wonderful thing about our church is that my opinion doesn’t have to be yours. But I think we need to consider the two biblical lessons offered to us today as just about the only lessons on the Christian family when we determine our stance on this issue. We have to work in the message of acceptance and of openness to the family models in the world around us. According to the Bible, that’s traditional Christian values. Whatever our family situation, may love define it, and may that love be made as strong as possible because of our faith in a Saviour who’s all about love. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo