Sunday, Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

The shepherds went in haste,
and found Mary and Joseph and the Infant lying in a manger.
(Luke 2:16)

O God,
Who were pleased to give us the
shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life
and in the bonds of charity, and so,
in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways. (Psalm 128: 1).

GOSPEL EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“When his parents saw him,
they were astonished, and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking (ἐζητοῦμέν, ezetoumen) for you with great anxiety (ὀδυνώμενοι, odunomenoi).”
“And He [Jesus] said to them,
“Why were you looking (ἐζητεῖτέ, ezeteite) for Me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house (ὅτι ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με)?”
But they did not understand (οὐ συνῆκαν ou sunekav) what he said to them (Luke 2:48-50)”

In this episode, ζητέω (zeteo) is the Greek verb translated here as “looking.” In both secular and religious usage, ζητέω has a variety of meanings and applications. Commonly, the verb is employed to locate a person, place or object, implying that the object of the search is no longer in the possession of the searcher. This usage of ζητέω gave rise to the verb expressing a desire for another if not, as in many cases, an actual and forceful demand that one has a right to that which is lost. This range of intensity, from desire to demand and a corresponding air of entitlement expressed in and by the search, the use of ζητέω broadened to include actions such as investigating and deliberating over various decisions, for example, ‘a search for the right course of action.’ One point worth noting in all these meanings of ζητέω is that when it comes to the action, the person searching initiates the action to seek, to investigate, to deliberate.

When ζητέω is used in a religious sense (especially in the Gospel according to Saint Luke), it is closely connected to the realities of choice, sin and salvation. A person has made a choice that results in ‘missing the mark (sin)’ whose consequence puts salvation in jeopardy. For the condition of salvation to be restored, one must be sought and found, ζητέω. The searching here in the religious sense is initiated and done by Another. In other words, “I” do not seek my own restoration. Someone else must search for “me” and restore “me” to the way of living that “I” chose to loose.
So … what does this mean for the Gospel episode at hand? A response to that question involves examining the Twelve-Year Old Jesus’ response to His mother.
Mary properly and legitimately states that her search (ζητέω) for Jesus has caused her much pain (ὀδυνάω odunao). Properly translated “pain” or “distress,” ὀδυνάω is also part of a word family that also means “birth pangs.” Mary does not mince words with her Son. His absence, His lack of being-with-her has taken a toll on her life as well as Joseph’s. Yet Jesus’ response is all the more intriguing: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” How does this respond to Mary’s pain?
Writing in the early part of the eighth century, Bede the Venerable writes: “Consider the most prudent woman Mary, mother of true Wisdom, as the pupil of her Son. For she learned from him, not as from a child or man but as from God. Yes, she dwelt in meditation on his words and actions. Nothing of what was said or done by him fell idly on her mind. As before, when she conceived the Word itself in her womb, so now does she hold within her his ways and words, cherishing them as it were in her heart. That which she now beholds in the present, she waits to have revealed with greater clarity in the future. This practice she followed as a rule and law through all her life. Exposition of the Gospel of Luke
What is interesting in the translation of Jesus’ response (Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?) is the word “house” is not in the Greek text. Literally the Sacred Text states, “I must be in of my Father,” awkward to say the least in English. Other translations render the verse, “I must be about my Father’s business.” Here the Evangelist Luke is presenting the very life of Jesus that is mystery (mystery here is not first and foremost about the ‘unknown.’ Mystery has used theologically is primarily ‘an unfolding of life’ calling one to conversion as life’s realities are lived. The unfolding of life, as Venerable Bede hints, offers clarity.) Couched in what scholars call the “Hidden Years (check these paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church)” the few events that the Canonical Gospels record concerning the Person Jesus are essentially an unfolding of primal Gospel questions: first, “Who is Jesus?” and secondly, “How do I follow Him.”
Jesus in the Temple, an episode of His “Hidden Years,” points to a significant dimension of what His “Public Ministry” will be about: finding and restoring humanity to His Father’s presence. From a Gospel point of view, Jesus is not the One sought; we as sinners are the ones who need to be sought and found. The Divine Twelve-Year-Old knows deeply His relationship to and with His Father in Heaven. Jesus’ entire being is being-with-the-Father that in essence means He (Jesus) is never lost. Not being-with-the-Father is loss for which the Rebel Jesus has come in the flesh to remedy in time and space.