Merry Christmas! Catholics celebrate 8 days of Christmas, ending on New Year’s Day with the celebration of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Christmas isn’t over yet! During this week the Church asks us to meditate on the mysteries of Jesus’s early life. Today, on the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we hear the story of the Finding in the Temple.
This Gospel account must be terrifying for parents. Joseph and Mary lose track of Jesus. They assume he’s with relatives, when in fact he’s been teaching in the Temple. It would be something like traveling to Kansas City for a Chiefs game with some family, getting to Emporia, and realizing that Little Billy isn’t in Uncle Bob’s car, like you thought. Then you return to Kansas City, and after several hours discover that Little Billy is in the locker room, showing the Patrick Mahomes how to throw a football.
What astonishes me about this event in the Gospel is what happens at the end. Jesus returns home with his parents and was obedient to them. Jesus is teaching the teachers in the Temple—this would be something like a 12 year old teaching theology to the Pope—and then he returns home with his family and is obedient to them. God the Son, the Creator of the Universe was obedient to his human parents.
I guess God takes the 4th Commandment pretty seriously.
In case you’re a little fuzzy on the commandments, the fourth is, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12 NRSVCE) When the Israelites were first given this commandment, they understood this as physical land of Israel, and the long days meant a long life on earth. We now know more. God has promised us a home in Heaven, and those long days refer to eternal life. So this commandment could be rephrased: honor your parents, so that you may enter into eternal life with God in Heaven.
I think that this can be one of the harder commandments to keep, but we must do our best. Our parents, in cooperation with God, gave us the gift of life. They raised us and taught us. For these gifts, we owe our parents a debt that we can never repay. Now, I realize that some parents are truly unfit for the job, perhaps due to mental illness or addiction, and we must protect children, and sometimes ourselves, in these cases. It’s a tragedy, really, and that’s not how it should be. In these cases, honoring our parents looks very different and can be incredibly difficult, but we can still do it. God calls us to do the hard things, and trust that he will help us. Getting back to my point, God has called us to honor our parents. They assisted God with giving us the gift of life; so, He reminds us that we owe our existence to them, and he calls us to honor them. God isn’t asking us to do something he was not willing to do, since he did it himself.
We also learn about the role of parents today. Parents have authority over their children, but we mustn’t forget Uncle Ben’s final lesson to Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Parents have responsibility to love their children, and St. Paul goes so far as to tell fathers not to provoke their children. Parental responsibility is more involved than this, though. Parents must teach their children about God. They must by their words and examples teach their children who God is and how to love him. They must teach their children God’s commandments and his Gospel. They must show their children how to pray to God and to worship him. This might mean that you have to study your faith a little bit, but it is worth it! Knowing our faith makes us better Christians, and it helps us to love God more.
When we die, we will meet God. When we meet God, he is going to ask us how we lived our lives, and how we live our lives will determine how we spend our eternity. God doesn’t make this judgment based on what other people do. He makes this judgment based on our actions. May all the parents here be able to say confidently to God, “I taught my children wisdom and love for you as well as I was able.” May all of us children here be able to say confidently to God, “I followed your example from the Temple and honored my parents.”
December 30, 2018
Holy Family Sunday
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52 (other options are available)