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A Scripture Reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, And Joseph

by Stephen Bevans, SVD | December 31, 2017

A Scripture Reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, And Joseph
December 31, 2017

Readings:  Sir 3:2-6; 12-14; Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, Col 3:12-17, Lk 2:22-40

Family Life

The Lectionary today offers an array of options for the first and second readings and the responsorial psalm for today’s Feast of the Holy Family, and I have chosen the readings that most appeal to me. When read together they don’t form very much of a single theme, however. They are more like independent meditations that reflect different aspects of family life, or like tesserae or pieces of a mosaic that come together to give us a cogent picture of what being a family can mean.

The first few pieces of the mosaic are provided by the wise man Jesus Ben Sirach, written in Jerusalem about two hundred years before Jesus of Nazareth was born. The author writes powerfully of how children should honor their parents by obeying and revering them—certainly the keystone for peaceful family life when children are young, and an important way for children to learn discipline for the rest of their lives. Sirach’s advice to “take care of your father when he is old,” even if his mind fails, reflects another reality of family life, especially today when parents live longer. No doubt Sirach wants to include taking care of one’s mother as well, since much of text alternates between concern for both mother and mother and father. There is a real poignancy here—I’m sure all of us know friends who have committed themselves to take care of elderly parents, or perhaps we ourselves know only too well the challenge, pain, and bittersweet joy that such a commitment entails. Parents never stop being parents, and children never stop being children, even though at some stage the responsibilities for one another are reversed.

Psalm 28 paints a beautiful, if idealistic, picture of family life—a faith-filled father, a mother embracing the family like a fruitful vine, and loving children always home for dinner, sharing around the family table. Paul’s advice to the community at Colossae, however, provides several mosaic tiles that suggest that such an idyllic portrait of family life only comes with a lot of work and sacrifice on everyone’s part. Living in a community—or a family—means practicing kindness toward one another, and developing the virtues of humility and patience. Probably most of all, though, family life demands bearing with one another and forgiving one another. Husbands and wives are bound to disagree with one another over how to discipline their children, or what financial decisions the need to make. They lose patience with one another. Any husband or wife knows how deeply he or she can hurt or be hurt. Children exasperate their parents, and parents make mistakes in disciplining their children. Brothers and sisters fight with one another as children and often are alienated from one another as adults. Only if a family is a school of generosity, patience, and forgiveness can it be the life-giving place that it is meant to be. Being a family takes effort, hard work.

Today’s rather long gospel offers few tiles of the mosaic that show Mary and Joseph as faithful Jews, obedient to the Law, probably overwhelmed by all the attention given to them by Simeon and Anna in the temple. The words at the end of the reading provide a final piece of the mosaic of family life revealed in today’s readings. Back in Nazareth, Jesus grew, became strong, and was filled with wisdom. We shouldn’t take that growth for granted, though. If Jesus did grow, and become strong and wise, a lot was due to the love, the sacrifice, the patience, the gentleness, the consistency of his parents. As every parent knows, raising a child is not easy, and it’s often a thankless task. I’m sure even the Holy Family had their moments! Mary and Joseph must have had their hands full!

The mosaic that our readings reveal today is one that can inspire us and challenge us in our own family life. All of us are sons and daughters—how have we treated our parents? Have we really given them the love and respect that they deserve, even if they were or are less than perfect? Many of us are husbands or wives—have we been the companions to one another that our sacrament calls us to be? Have we been the parents that our love urges us to be? Could we be gentler with one another? More patient? More forgiving? There’s always room to grow. On a day like today we might re-dedicate ourselves to growing. On a day like today, however, maybe the first thing we need to do is to be thankful for the families that have made us who we are.


The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture
S.T.B., S.T.L., Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame; Study: University of Cambridge

Steve Bevans is a priest in the missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture.

After completing his Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1972, he served as a missionary to the Philippines until 1981. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and has taught at CTU since that time, officially retiring from the faculty in 2015.

He is the author or co-author of six books and editor or co-editor of eleven, including Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004), and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009). In 2013, he edited A Century of Catholic Mission, and, in 2015, with Cathy Ross, Mission on the Road to Emmaus: Constants, Context, and Prophetic Dialogue.

He is a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Books written by Steve Bevans

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