When I began thinking about what I might preach on this, Holy Family Sunday, I began to think about the way the family appears on television – now and way back in the early days of television, the 1950s and 1960s. If you ask people who are 60 years old or older, what might be one of their favorite family shows, the answers might include “Father Knows Best.” Weekly we could tune in to see mom Margaret as the voice of reason or dad Jim as the thoughtful father offering sage advice whenever the kids Betty and Bud had a problem. They were held up for us as the perfect family. Of course, the family on “Leave it to Beaver” was pretty amazing – they also had mom, dad and two children – Wally and Theodore (whose nickname was “Beaver”). It was one of the first primetime sitcom series written from a child’s point of view. It was a glimpse of middle-class American boyhood. In a typical episode, Beaver gets into some sort of boyish scrape, then faces his parents for reprimand and correction. But in this series, neither parent was omniscient; the series often showed the parents debating their approach to child rearing, and some episodes were built around parental gaffes. Still, it was family.
Move the clock ahead more than 50 years and families are portrayed on television… a little differently. Consider the portrayal of families in current shows: Modern Family, This is Us, Parenthood, Full House, Black-ish, The Goldbergs, The Fosters, The Middle, and more. Certainly, these shows are a better mirror of the many shapes, forms, variations, distinctions, and versions of our families today.
Maybe what is common to all these shows is that they try to capture the dynamic all families face: parents trying to be the voice of reason and offer sage advice – all the while knowing they are not omniscient and won’t always get it right – and trying how to best be the loving parent in a given moment. At the same time, the children are bumping into life, gaining experience, getting it right sometimes, and in other times well-earning parental reprimand and correction. Parents watching their children become the person they will be – all the while loving, worrying, crossing fingers they got it right. Children exploring, experimenting, choosing and wondering why their parents are so worried and uptight; wishing they would love a little more loosely, give a little more room – and then realizing experience counts for something. And knowing the parents are always there.
Maybe I just described the two hardest jobs in life: growing up and being a parent.
St. Paul assures us that Jesus was like us in all things except sin. Makes me wonder about life in the Holy Family. The scene of the boy Jesus lost in the Temple is just a snap shot. It paints a picture: Mary and Joseph have been frantically searching for the seemingly lost Jesus and eventually find him in the midst of the teachers and scribes in the middle of the Temple. When asked by his parents why he had done this, why he has caused them such anxiety and pain, Jesus replies, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” If I made a similar remark in the same situation, I would have been so grounded. I wonder if Jesus got grounded for his reply.
Perhaps we understand the verse to mean, “where else would you have expected to find me but here, in this place, the Temple, the house of God.” But actually, the word “house” does not appear in the verse. The verse is an idiomatic Greek expression which I’d suggest is better translated as: I must be about my Father’s affairs or business. In other words, rather than necessarily being in a place, Jesus is saying there are activities and concerns he must be about. When Jesus later uses the expression “I must” (dei; it is necessary that) it is not being in a place that is necessary, but rather Jesus must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (Lk 4), must suffer and be raised (Lk 9, 13, 17,24), and must fulfill Scriptures (Lk 21, 28) – the concerns and affairs of God the Father.
It seems Luke’s narrative of the Gospel has reached a tipping point. At the end of the infancy narratives, Luke tells us “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (v.40). At the end of our account today, we are told, “And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (v.52). The human part of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, is coming into his own vocation. Where our story begins with Jesus’ parents taking him to Jerusalem for the Passover, as was their custom, now it is Jesus who leads the story, being about his Father’s business.
This is not a story of child growing up and leaving family, it is still a story of making family. A family who acts according to the Law “as was their custom.” Not just the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but the custom of the way life is to be and have meaning, to lead Jesus not only the “what to do’s” – but also the meaning of why
Put on then, 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 be thankful. (Col 3:12-15)
Words for each family. Words for parents to teach children, parents to teach each other, children to teach parents – we all need to be reminded. In that holiness, that humility, in putting on love we learn our vocation. We learn our customs, our habits – and learn to be family.
What is it to be a Holy Family? It is to be a family that keeps the customs that are of God. A family that comes to learn what it means to be about our heavenly Father’s affairs. A family called to be loving when it may not be our first inclination, to be forgiving when we are still broken-hearted, to be gentle, patient and kind. A family who teaches well the things of a God who transcends us yet loves us so much that he sent his only Son among us as one of us – to make us family. To be a Holy Family is knowing there is no place like home. Our lives are a story of homecoming: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”