On today’s Feast of the Holy Family we hear a story about parents losing their only child. Not for a few minutes or even a couple of hours: Mary and Joseph lose Jesus for days. How delightful!
The Church draws our attention to a wonderfully confusing scene, where a frustrated Mary asks “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” To this agitated question, the child Jesus poses another question — “Why were you looking for me?”
Why were you looking for me? Seriously? Just who does this kid think he is? The second part of his reply answers this question: the Son of God, that’s who — “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Imagine how Joseph felt. Your father’s house. Oh, right. Your other father, the Father. Maybe that Father can also feed and clothe you and care for you and your mother in a foreign land while a bloodthirsty tyrant tries to kill you. Maybe that Father can find you when you randomly decide to wander to the temple and somehow stay there for three days.
Joseph could have said that or worse, beginning with the fact that he was the only person in his family who could sin. Imagine living in a household where you are the only sinner? Humility. Humility. Humility.
The Holy Family is holy not for being perfect (although two out of three being born without sin is a distinct competitive advantage). Mary and Joseph thought they lost their kid, Jesus, only to be chided for looking for him and not recalling his need to be in his Father’s house. Joseph, his earthly father, is in a spectacularly tough spot: his chaste spouse is sinless and his son is the son of God. Great. That’s worse than being Shakespeare’s English teacher.
The heart of this portrayal of the Holy Family is humility. Jesus humbled himself to take on our humanity. Mary humbled herself through her obedient “yes.” Joseph’s humility is everywhere, as he accepts the confusions, the maddening paradox of salvation history, and serves faithfully.
We cannot be sinless and we cannot understand or justify the details of the Gospel. But we can try to be humble. In fact, we might take this rather dysfunctional, confusing portrait of the Holy Family as a call to humility. A call to faith.
** I’m stealing and adapting most of my material from today’s excellent homily by Fr. Jon Vander Ploeg. Except the line about Shakespeare, I took that one from Sir Ken Robinson.