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Holy Family (A)
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Readings for the Celebration of the Holy Family, Cycle A

1. Sirach 3, 2-7 and 12-14

  • God sets a father in honor over his children.  In other words, God meant it to be like this.  Listen to the way the sages describe the relationship of parents and children: authority, honor, revere.  It is the same God who established the covenant with Israel.  That means our families embody a covenant as well, rather than a binding contract as in political and economic affairs.  Family life does not rest finally on our good will.  It is an enduring truth founded on God’s intention.
  • Ben Sira presents his teaching in brief pithy statements.  I do not need to build to a climax, but instead will give equal weight to each pair of sayings.
  • As I read I think of all the families I know and have read about, many of them lacking the father/mother pairing presented here.  Perhaps a parent is absent by choice, or perhaps because of violence.  Perhaps a parent is present but constantly abusive, or driven to passivity by a partner.  And then there are children who abuse or neglect their parents.  My son, take care of your father.  In that context I appreciate the earnest appeal of the sage, where so many families lie broken by their own will or by a stray shot or by preemptive war.
  • When he prays he is heard.  God expects us to show our honor in turn.  Kindness to a father will not be forgotten.  And God remembers.
  • Central theme: It is no wonder that mutual honor and esteem come naturally to family members, because God gave them to us in the first place.
  • Message for our assembly: Are we grateful for God’s gift to us of family?
  • I will challenge myself: To break through the complacency of the wisdom genre, and to appeal to the congregation to nurture its family feeling.  I will not do it in a pleading way, but more in terms of warning.  I am not repeating human conventions but the law of God.

 

2. Colossians 3, 12-21

  • I am hearing the apostle describe community life.  We hear so few words of advice for families in the New Testament that we are drawn to the ending of this passage.  But we should listen also to the beginning, and measure our church against the life in community that is presented there.
  • All the gifts, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, have to do with living together.  We are not drawn together by our own will, and we do not look for our own benefit, or our own direct line to a personal Savior.  No, we are God’s chosen ones.  God has gathered us together in “the love of Christ,” as the medieval hymn verse tells us. 
  • Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven you.  Now we learn from Christ’s example how to do it.
  • Love, peace, gratitude in your hearts.  How can I get beyond platitudes and challenge my listeners to measure their lives against this?  It will help if I look upon them all and try to tie the assembly together as I read.
  • Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  I love to sing, though I have my favorites and some that are not-so-favorite.  I think that most who hear me today feel the same way, remembering how they began to discover the Body of Christ through the church’s song.  Can we recapture this spirit and pass it on?
  • Wives, be subordinate Husbands, love.  In the light of Paul’s hymn to self-giving love, we are asking for similar behavior from the spouses: the wives by yielding their wills, and the husbands by giving others the pride of place.  We do not impose ourselves, but rather enable others.  Let me think of that as I read.  Children, obeyFathers, do not provoke.  I think the Christians have gotten beyond the patriarchal model of family now, and I should emphasize both kinds of behavior just as the apostle meant it to be.
  • The message for our assembly: What do we look for in the church?  Are we as open to others as we are in our own small families?
  • Central theme: The apostle gives us a blueprint for our lives together.
  • I will challenge myself: To breathe life into this catalog of community virtues, and encourage my listeners to desire them more than ever.

Gospel. Matthew 2, 13-15 and 19-23

  • The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  Matthew is the evangelist who gives all the details about Joseph, especially in this passage. 
  • Joseph will receive three important messages from God through dreams.  Two of them are reported in this passage.  It was no coincidence that the patriarch Joseph – after he was taken to Egypt – also received important messages in dreams.  Today more than ever we know that deeper truths emerge from our dreams.
  • Out of Egypt I called my son.  He shall be called a Nazorean.  Some of the citations from the prophets really stretch the connection between Israel’s Messiah and Jesus!  Let me remember that my faith does not depend on historical accuracy in all these stories.  It does not depend, for that matter, on a forced fulfillment of the entire Tanach in Jesus.  But it does depend entirely on the action of God, who “called my son” Israel and who calls us all children.
  • Odd thing in Gospel passages: I do not hear the name of Jesus once.  It is almost as if even the evangelist and his listeners are sworn to silence, in order to protect this child.  I do not believe that he was ever afraid – despite the lyrics of a contemporary Christmas hymn – but he certainly learned caution from his parents and from everyone around him.  It could also be that the divine naming and mission of Jesus were not to be realized until God’s commission at his baptism.
  • Climax: Take the child and his mother.  He took the child and his mother.  Spoken twice and both times decisively.
  • Message for our assembly: When we debate changes to the immigration laws, do we put a human face on the people affected?  Do we see Jesus and his parents?
  • I will challenge myself: To bring out the movement of this little family in my words, under God’s command and protection.

From Word to Eucharist: We move slowly in our procession, just as we have moved in the moments of our lives.  Do we welcome the newcomers among us, the ones who speak a strange language and sing strange hymns?  Are we committed to shelter each other?

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