That Look

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The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph


The 12-year old Jesus looked up at his mother. Mary had just laid out what any mother would agree was a fairly reasonable argument against his lack of sensitivity to her feelings. “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Great anxiety—they were worried, and rightly so. This was not their first family trip to the big city, and the young man did not think twice about ditching his parents. He didn’t even try to make it look like an accident. So we can assume that like many parents, Mary and her son had some sort of understanding. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. “You don’t have to stick with us. But you have to stay with the group. Don’t go wandering around. Don’t talk to strangers. Check in every once in a while. And when we have to get going, we better not have to come looking for you. Capisce?”

Still it seemed the 12-year old Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He was convinced it was way cooler to go hang out with more interesting people, to discuss with experts and teachers of the law in the temple matters that were of great importance to him. Incidentally, in the Jewish faith boys under the age of 13 (girls under 12) are not obligated to observe the commandments. But in their 13th year (12th for girls) they come of age in a religious ritual known as Bar (Bat) Mitzvah. From then on, they become responsible for keeping the commandments. So young people are highly encouraged to learn about these obligations. And perhaps in the young Jesus’ head, he was doing something completely legitimate. His parents taught him the tradition of his ancestors, and he was looking forward to his Bar Mitzvah. He had questions, and he thought, where better to find answers than from the people who knew their stuff? He was not shy about sharing his own ideas and thoughts on many a subject matter. So when he opened his mouth to address his mother, his response was meant to lay out what any teenager would agree was an equally reasonable counter-argument to justify what could be perceived as his lack of consideration for what he had just put his parents through. “Why were you looking for me?” Now he may be the Son of God, the Almighty and all-knowing and all everything, but I would have to side with his mother.

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“Why were you looking for me?” Really? Your mother will always be looking for you, especially if you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be. Now I am not a mother. But I have a few. And I can assure you, that response will get you grounded.

Throughout the history of Christianity, theologians and religious thinkers would wrestle with what Jesus may or may not have known about his own divine nature and mission in those early years. Was he born with full and complete knowledge of who he was and what he was sent by the Father to accomplish? Or did he attain that knowledge gradually over time? And sometimes I wonder why it should even concern us at all? We hold that Jesus is both truly God and truly human. How exactly that translates into reality may be beyond us, unless of course you have nothing else to do. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I remember hearing it differently when I was growing up. “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?”

“Did you not know?” Whooooaaa! Those are words no one in their right mind would ever say to their mother, not even the Son of God. But it came out before he had the sense to know better. Now there may be nothing in the story that tells us so, but I can guess his mother gave him that look, the kind that mothers have when they resist the urge to unleash the full force of their fury to make a point because they love us very much. And that is why we don’t hear how the rest of that conversation went. Instead, the gospel says “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” The Son of God was obedient to his parents. There’s a lesson in there for us. Jesus didn’t use his ninja moves to defend himself. Instead, he stopped arguing and did as was expected of him. “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Now how is it the gospel says Jesus advanced in wisdom? If he was God, he would already possess the fullness of wisdom. But Jesus was fully human as well. And even he had to learn a thing or two. Some time ago, I came to a better understanding of wisdom. It is that knowledge gained from experience at a time when it is no longer useful or needed. When it is most needed, it is nearly impossible to find. And when one who possesses it is inspired to pass it on, no one can be found who wants it. Thank you.

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Although none of us can ever claim a better experience of family life than Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we can guess that even they must have had their challenges. The Holy Family of Nazareth was not a perfect family. The gospels are silent about the early years of Jesus’ life. Jesus himself told no stories of growing up. And although the gospel of Luke contains stories that seem to come from Mary’s point of view, this is the only story we read from that time between Jesus’ infancy and the start of his public life. So we can imagine their family life was as ordinary and unspectacular as most of ours. They cared for one another. They shared meals together. They faithfully observed their faith traditions, and they had household responsibilities like any family would.

Joseph worked a carpenter’s trade. Mary was a homemaker. And together they provided a stable environment for their son to grow up in, teaching him basic life skills, coaching him on the conventions of social interaction, guiding him through the teenage years, imparting accountability and responsibility, encouraging him to faithfulness and perseverance, celebrating his achievements. Jesus grew in wisdom and age and favor while under the care and authority of his parents. So when the time came for him to begin his ministry, they would be confident they had done as well a job as was possible.

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In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul gives useful advice on Christian living, lessons applicable to family life as well as community life. We should concern ourselves with doing the right thing, but always be mindful of those around us. He would tell us that it is by our love for one another that the world will know we are his disciples. He didn’t say it is by our always doing the right thing, although if we loved one another, we would most likely be doing the right thing. And though he always knew to do what was right, Jesus had to learn a few really important lessons growing up with his family, like what was acceptable, what was preferable, and what was best. So we should too.

“Why were you looking for me?” Mary would have said, “Because I am your mother, and I love you, and it’s my job.” So when your adult child or teenager or sibling or spouse or parent or neighbor or pastor or friend asks you that question or something like it, give them that look, the one that says, “I love you, too. Even Jesus had to learn.”

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Rolo B Castillo © 2015