It is possible that we don’t hear anything more about Jesus growing up after this story is because he was grounded until he was 21.
As a non-expert attempting a definition and taking into consideration the wide variety of possible configurations, I can describe the concept of “family” as involving some accepted form of social contract initiated between two individuals capable of forming such a bond, which may then expand through mutual choice and natural biological processes to eventually include any number of others in a pledge of voluntary affection, communication, cooperation, and responsibility. This bond is sustained and nurtured with care and attention to ensure for all its members health in mind and body and the realization of their full potential, to enable the young to mature and the elderly to live with dignity, and to provide for the effective transmission to later generations of vital information, human values, religious beliefs, artistic expressions, language, and cultural traditions that promote and celebrate their unique identity. I want to make clear this definition will not be found in any dictionary nor endorsed by any civic, religious, educational, or medical organizations.
I purposely attempted to encompass as broad a spectrum as possible to include situations where family members may or may not live under the same physical roof; and ex-in-laws and non-DNA-related residents are considered members—as we often do with churches and schools, industries and businesses, political and mutual interest groups, exclusive brand and organized sports and media outlet groups—I actually doubt they all desire and promote things essential to families, but I’m not telling them otherwise; where non-humans are just as valued and embraced if not more, including household plants and animals regarded as pets; and anyone your children invite to dinner on any given day. Some might go farther still to consider as family anyone they let in their door or welcome to their table or post bail for, no questions asked.
As we honor the Holy Family of Nazareth today, we ponder what it means to be family after their example. Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances that brought Mary and Joseph together—she who was found with child before they were married, he who very seriously considered walking away; despite a long and difficult journey capable of straining even the most committed relationship; despite having to wander the streets of an unfamiliar town, exhausted, cold, hungry, and desperate; despite taking shelter at last where animals were kept and where Mary brought forth her first-born son; despite fleeing violence in the days that followed, as Herod instigated murder against the infant children of Bethlehem; and despite having to live as political refugees in Egypt until Herod’s death, what truly made them family was their staunch willingness to face life’s challenges united in purpose and mutual support. Life with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had its share of trials and challenges, yet they travelled the journey of life together unwavering in their compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, and gratitude.
The story we read today in the gospel of Luke, of Jesus unintentionally grieving his parents for losing track of time and pursuing his passion neglectful of those who were responsible for his care, teaches us to expand the reach of our hearts to anticipate the cares and concerns of others, to put ourselves in their shoes and carry their burdens even momentarily. It will not be an easy task. We will be fumbling in the dark until we come to truly know their ways and the living spirit that courses through their veins. Some people will more easily pick up on these things than others. But a willingness to learn is more than helpful, a sincere desire to put the other ahead of oneself.
Do you have black sheep in your family? Do you know of people in your family no one will talk about, whose names are mentioned in hushed voices or are met with disgust or discomfort or rage? Are there family members you have never met or have met briefly but have not seen since? Was it their choice to fade away from view to spare everyone grief and awkwardness? Or were they made to feel unwelcome and unwanted so they fade away from view? The ties that bind us one to another may be written in our DNA, but how we receive one another and make each other welcome and extend comfort and friendship is entirely our choice. How other people behave is not up to us. But how we behave toward them is.
Nowhere in today’s scripture lessons do we hear what specific circumstances will permit us to give up on one another or treat each other with disdain or disrespect. Our selfishness and lack of compassion is what creates barriers to a life of peace and harmony within the family. Perhaps the people we love see things differently from us or make bad choices or are unmindful of our cares or fail to return our love and respect. But we cannot fault them for not being us, and if we desire to remain united in purpose and mutual support, we will need to stay the course.
Family life will never be without its share of trials and challenges. And St. Paul appeals to our better angels. “Put on … heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another. … And over all these, put on love, the bond of perfection. … And be thankful. … And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We would likely be a lot more welcoming, warm, compassionate, and forgiving if the only begotten Son of God ever chose to join our family. Rather, Jesus is already among us in all who live and walk alongside us, in all who share our trials and struggles, and in all who belong to the human family. Look around you, sisters and brothers, because we all belong to the family of God.
Rolo B Castillo © 2021