The Feast of the Holy Family
- 1 Samuel 1:20-22.24-28 – For the whole of his life, Samuel shall be lent to the Lord.
- Psalm 83:2-3.5-6.9-10 – How happy they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
- 1 John 3:1-2.21-24 – He calls you his own children, and that is what you are.
- Luke 2:41-52 – His parents found him in the temple, sitting among the learned men listening to them.
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When I was a lad, we lived on the farm; we would walk up the hill (a couple hundred metres) and wait for the school bus; and then catch the bus; and then walk from the bus stop to the school, which wasn’t very far. But you know, I’m sure most of you have similar stories – if you lived particularly out a little bit from the school or from the town, you know that sense of just having to journey some way by yourself.
Now of course we live in a very different world. You know most parents will now drive their children directly to the school gate and insist upon that kind of policy and procedure. The world that we grew up in and the world that the Jesus and his family were part of was obviously very different from our own hypersensitive kind of sense of protection and child safety. And all of those kinds of issues and questions. It was a world in which there was trust, and so you could have the scenario that is presented here. It was also that sense, particularly for those three major Jewish festivals. The Book of Exodus 34:23 indicates that every year all males in the community must make the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem for those three significant feasts: of Passover, Shavout (Pentecost), and then also of Tabernacles (Sukkoth). These three feasts were the three pilgrimage festivals.
Now there were limits as to how far you had to travel, but that’s not in the scriptures. That’s in later interpretation that you find in the Talmud and the Mishnah – writings of the Rabbis, that understand and interpret the scriptures.
The journey from Nazareth down to Jerusalem. You wouldn’t go through the central part, because that’s through Samaria. And that’s much more dangerous than either going the way of the coast or going down into the Jordan Valley; either of those journeys would be about 150 kilometres. So if you’re walking about 30 kilometres each day, that is at least a five-day journey, so it’s not a small undertaking to then get to the place to have a few days there in Jerusalem and then make their way back.
The historian at the time, Josephus said that for many of these pilgrimage festivals, there were up to 2 million pilgrims who made that journey to Jerusalem. So Jerusalem was utterly chaotic of it. Even today, Jerusalem is a pretty crazy kind of town to be part of, with all the narrow little alleyways and all of that: who knows exactly what it was like 2000 years ago?
But we can get a bit of a sense that sense of trust, a sense of travelling together, but also that there would have been different kind of caravans. The women and children probably would have set out first because they would travel a little bit slower and the men would gather their supplies and they would catch up to meet the rest of the family at the first campsite for the day. So we can understand the scenario that is there and kind of give Mary and Joseph a bit of a break in all of this their experience.
For Luke, though, it’s crucial that all of this is happening in and around both Jerusalem and especially the temple. Of all of the Gospels, Luke is the most careful to point us towards Jerusalem. The whole of the gospel is focused on either being in Jerusalem or the journey to Jerusalem.
We’ve already had two different scenes set in the temple with the announcement that Zechariah would be the father of a child, even as he and Elizabeth were there in their old age. In the passage that we jump over, in this second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we have the presentation of Jesus, when he’s a little baby in the temple (with the revelations to Simeon and Anna), and then we also conclude the gospel in the temple. All of the disciples are there in the temple praising and worshipping God and then from Chapter 9:51 through the end of Chapter 19, there’s this long road-trip journey to Jerusalem. The temple is key to the whole experience of this gospel. And it makes sense also that this whole reality of what Jesus is about provides this real focus here.
I mean, we don’t get the whole sense of when did Jesus start to kind of make sense of who he was, what his true identity was all about. We don’t get that in the Gospels. This is the only scene that we get in any of the four canonical gospels. [There are other gospels of course that are non-canonical that we have all kinds of fanciful details about the early life of Jesus, but in the canonical gospels, this is the one and only precious story that we have of his early life.]
We get here the first words spoken by Jesus at the age of 12. And of course, again within Judaism of that time, 12 was the cusp of manhood. You know, it was just before they would celebrate their Bar mitzvah.
It was just before they would take on the full weight of the law and then all of these things would not be Joseph’s responsibility, not as his adopted father, but Jesus would then take on these responsibilities himself as an adult. At 13 a male was considered to be an adult. So here at 12 he’s just on that cusp. He’s beginning to discover, beginning to take up on his own authority. It’s also interesting psychologically the question that Mary puts to him after this three days of searching and trying to find where has he gone: “My child, why have you done this to us?”
I could imagine a mother these days is much more likely to say much. “I’m so sorry that we abandoned you. Well, I’m so sorry that we left you alone.” You know it would be much more about the parents responsibility, but in that society at that time no. Why did you do this?
To us, I’m sure there’s many parents who have wanted to ask that question or no doubt have asked that kind of question and so the reply that Jesus gives us, why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be busy about my father’s affairs?
And it’s that whole sense of being in the father’s house. You know, that whole profound identity that Jesus is just in his humanity, beginning to make sense of.
But it’s also, I think, a wonderful kind of bracketing technique that Luke probably is given to us by putting this story here at the very beginning of the ministry. These are the first words that Jesus speaks.
And then we go to the end of his gospel, in Latin Chapter 24, and we had that beautiful story that is in so many ways this beautiful epitome of the whole ministry of Luke’s Gospel. The story of the two disciples, on their way to Emmaus , and we have interesting details, that are very much parallel between the two stories. This whole focus around Jerusalem and going to and from the temple.
The sense of the two as they walk along the road having that sense of losing Jesus, they don’t know where he is. On the two disciples, as they continue to try and make sense of where is Jesus, you know he was the one that we hope for. He was the one that we longed for and this three days was enough for them to lose all sense of who Jesus was. And then Jesus is found. Jesus walks among them. Jesus opens their hearts to the scriptures. To the profound reality of what Jesus is doing within them and has done within them. And it’s exactly the same wording of the sentence that he has. Don’t you know, you know the whole sense of what I must be about. The same language to bring these connections between us, and I think, as we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family.
This whole idea of who is Jesus? What is he about? How does he make sense of our lives? You know, sometimes there is that sense, and particularly in our families, where it feels like.
We have lost him. It feels like we don’t know where he is anymore. You know the whole sense of our struggle, of making sense of the reality of God in our lives, and this reality can sometimes be going to cause us like Mary and Joseph to go searching to go looking, where is he? What is this all about or as the two disciples walked along the way away from Jerusalem to search their own souls and to try and make sense of where is he?
How do we find him? How do we bring him into the reality of our lives? You know, our world is so complicated. Our world is so confusing at times and we can feel legitimately to have lost the sense of who Jesus is.
And it calls us and invites us as part of this Holy Family of God’s people to go hunting for him to go searching, to go and continue to seek where is he? How was he to be found in our world and in our present reality?