Gospel Commentary: Feast of the Holy Family

People who travel during the holiday season may take comfort in the fact that the theme of going on a journey pervades the readings during the Christmas season. First, there is the journey of Mary who traveled almost the length of her entire country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Later, Joseph and Mary will make a trip of similar length to get to Bethlehem, their ancestral city, to be counted in the census of Caesar Augustus. The shepherds would travel from their fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem and the Magi would come from their distant origins to pay homage to the new King. Mary and Joseph would journey to Egypt to flee the massacre of the children ordered by Herod. The journey to the temple, however, was a different type of excursion all together. Going to the Temple meant that they were on a pilgrimage to present their Child to God, His Father. The trip to the Temple was the most important journey of all; their pilgrimage to the House of God showed that the role that Jesus was to play on earth was not one that was purely tied to the realm of the physical, rather, it was a spiritual role as well. He was to fulfill the ancient prophecies of Isaiah and free people from their sins and open for them the gates of everlasting life. As our Lord would later say, "my kingdom is not of this world." Mary and Joseph were not merely the mother and the foster-father of the Messiah, they were also devout Jews and they believed that their Son should be consecrated to God in the holy place were the tablets of the law had once been enshrined and the sacred space where the prophets had preached. What a fascinating group they must have made. A young family virtually lost in the impossible vastness of the temple, surely invisible in the crowd of people engaging in the many enterprises for which the Temple was the center. They would not have stood out among so many other worshipers, most likely, still tired from the journey to Jerusalem. There they were, the awaited Messiah arriving as a baby, His mother, whom the Church has granted the title, "Ark of the Covenant" coming to the place where the first Ark of the Covenant initially resided until it was carried off by invaders, and St. Joseph, future patron of the universal Church coming into the foremost house of worship in the world at the time. The Gospel of Luke for the feast of the Holy Family takes us from the first trepidatious moments when Jesus, Mary and Joseph come to the Temple so that the law of consecration might be fulfilled, through the prophesies of Simeon and Anna to the house of Nazareth. While the law prescribed that a firstborn son was to be consecrated to the Lord, there was no law that the presentation had to take place in the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet no other temple or synagogue would have been appropriate. Here was the place where people had come to pray for the advent of the Messiah so this would naturally be the site of His first public presentation to the Lord. The temple would play an interesting role in the life of Christ, and this passage gives us a glimpse of His first encounter in the holiest place in Judaism. The Holy Family would have had to pass through Jerusalem to get to Nazareth in the north. Before going to their home in Nazareth first they had to come and bring Jesus to the place where for hundreds of years the Jews had worshiped. Before crossing the threshold of the house at Nazareth the first homecoming had to be in the place our Lord would later call, "My Father’s house." In the Temple, Simeon and Anna would be the first blessed people to recognize Jesus for who He truly was — the long expected Messiah. In this Temple, Jesus would stay behind to teach the elders. In the Temple, Jesus would chase out the merchants and the money changers. It was in the Temple our Lord would preach and be questioned by Pharisees and lawyers. It was in the Temple He would observe a widow giving all that she had to the Lord. It was the Temple Jesus would use as a metaphor for His passion and resurrection when He said that He would destroy and rebuild it in three days. No longer would such a place be needed. Even the legendary temple of Jerusalem was rendered obsolete when He who would one day dwell among His people in the tabernacle, came to Jerusalem and gave His people their first ray of hope and their first encounter with their Lord in the house of His Father. Fr. Mullins is parochial vicar at St. Michael parish in Annandale.

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