December 25, 2019 // The Sunday Gospel
Family life is rooted in the unconditional love of God
Feast of the Holy Family
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
The Book of Sirach is part of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. As are many other books in this body of writings, it is highly practical.
When these books were written, albeit at different moments and in different places, Jewish parents and elders needed to pass along to their contemporaries and to future generations knowledge of the Revelation given the Chosen People by God.
They had their reasons. Very often, the culture around them was hostile. They lived and worked among pagans who often scorned the ancient Hebrew beliefs. Of course, they had to confront the irreligious leanings of human nature.
In this reading, the book looks very carefully at the basic unit of society and of civilization, namely the family. It calls for honor to be paid parents. Here, the egalitarian sense of the ancient Jewish writings is clear. While the father is acknowledged as head of the household, the mother is entitled to equal respect and veneration. She is in no sense merely a servant or secondary figure.
Especially, Sirach calls upon children to care for their parents when their parents are old.
The second reading for this feast is from the Epistle to the Colossians. The first part of the reading is addressed to all disciples. It admonishes followers of Christ to love one another. More than a charming platitude, this advice asks the faithful to forgive one another and to be concerned about one another.
In the next part of the reading, Paul urges wives to obey their husbands. It is obviously a thought much influenced by the culture of the time. He does end his admonition with these words. He says that husbands should love their wives.
This advice may seem to be little better than a truism. At the time of Paul, spouses rarely wed for love. Parents offered their daughters to the most promising suitors. In a sense, it was almost as if the father of the bride sold his own daughter to the highest bidder. Once married, wives often merely were toys or means to the ends of parenthood or physical pleasure for their husbands. Paul’s urging husbands to love wives was revolutionary.
St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Of the four Gospels, only Matthew and Luke mention details of the Lord’s birth and early years on earth. This weekend’s reading is the familiar story of the flight into Egypt.
Shrines in modern Egypt declare themselves to be the sites of the Holy Family’s movement away from the threat of the king’s order in Judea, or of their respite in Egypt. In fact, by using “Egypt,” this Gospel is not as geographically precise as some might prefer.
This is certain: The Holy Family fled from Palestine to safeguard Jesus. They fled into the unknown, into pagan territory, indicated by the term “Egypt.”
Finally, this text identifies Jesus of Nazareth, whom many heard and saw, as one and the same as the child born of Mary and rescued by divine intervention from the plots of an evil king.
Still feeling the warmth of Christmas, this weekend we follow the Church in reflecting upon the Holy Family, and by extension upon family life itself.
These readings have strong, practical lessons. Families must bond themselves in love. Parents must love children. Children must love parents. Spouses must love each other.
Most importantly, no family can survive simply by good intentions. Threats await all families; maybe not threats from evil rulers, but real nevertheless. Families need God’s protection.
Also clear in Matthew is the Lord’s mission. Every Christian has a mission. The role of the family is to support each member’s mission, as Mary and Joseph supported the mission of Jesus.
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