When we think of the Holy Family, we think of an ideal family whose supposed peaceful and holy life bears little resemblance of our own family life. But the Scriptures tell us a different story.
And it starts right from the beginning with Mary’s miraculous pregnancy. In Matthew’s Gospel, it was completely unexpected to Joseph whose shock led him to contemplate divorcing her. In Luke’s Gospel Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, not an easy trip under the best of circumstances, but Mary is expecting and soon after they arrived she gave birth. The story continues in
Matthew’s Gospel when Joseph packs up his family to escape Herod who wanted to kill the baby and flees to Egypt where they lived for some time as immigrants and refugees. Back to Luke’s version where they take the newborn to the Temple and are greeted by Simeon who predicted that the infant would be a sign of contradiction and that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s heart. And that brings us to today’s Gospel which has the harried parents searching for the run-away 12 year old Jesus to be greeted by his haughty response to Mary’s question: “Son. Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Jesus doesn’t understand why his parents didn’t understand why he “must be” in his Father’s house. While Joseph isn’t quoted here (or any place else in the Gospels), I imagine him reacting to Jesus’ rather snippy response by saying something like this: “Don’t you talk to your mother like that! I’m going to slap you upside the head if you aren’t more respectful. Come home with us – NOW!” Whatever Joseph did or said it made an impression because Jesus returned with them to Nazareth “and was obedient to them” from then on. And finally Joseph dies sometime after this episode and before Jesus embarks on his public ministry, leaving Mary a widow and Jesus as the sole breadwinner in what remains of this family unit.
An almost divorce, immigrants and refugees, dire predictions, a runaway child, anxious parents, death of a loved one; the Holy Family shared in all that and the heartache that caused for each of them. Scripture depicts the Holy Family as knowing of the joys and hopes, the grief and anxiety of the ordinary, especially the afflicted, people of their age.
The Holy Family is more like our families than we’d ever imagined!