The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

Dialogue: The Family Today. “Let marriage be held in honour by all”.

First Reading (Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7, 14-17). He who fears the Lord respects his parents.The Fourth Commandment says (Exodus 20:12): “Honour your father and your mother that your days may be long”. Marriage was held in great honour in Israel and in today’s reading Ben Sira (who is better known in Latin tradition as Ecclesiasticus, “the ecclesiastic/church one”), who had a wisdom school for young promising students in Jerusalem (about 180 BC), gives us his reflections on the great commandment. What he has to say is full of humanity and compassion. Respect by all the members of a family for one another makes for happiness. Observance of this fourth commandment is meritorious and atones for sins. And such observance is not always a joy. It means acceptance of one’s kith and kin, among other matters putting up with certain weaknesses and foibles. It calls for sympathy and compassion in sickness and old age, reminding the young, strong and healthy members of the family to be aware of the infirmities of old age. All in all, this is a very fine Old Testament treatment of what family life is called to be.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 127[128[]). O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Second Reading (Colossians 3:12-21). Family life in the Lord. This reading is the continuation of Paul’s magnificent description of what Christian life, life in Christ, is intended to be. The risen Christ is its source and its model. Human nature has its weaknesses and failures, as the Colossian community had before their conversion to Christ. With baptism, union with the life-giving Christ, the past lay behind them. Christ’s followers have put on a new nature which is constantly being renewed, becoming more Christlike, more in the image of God. Paul stresses these points in the three paragraphs of today’s reading. The Christian community is God’s chosen people; God loves them. Christian life should be characterized by sincere compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience, and a readiness to forgive when a quarrel begins. These are telling virtues, and they should be bound fast by love, love that keeps all these together. Here Paul may be thinking of what he had written to the Corinthians of this subject (1 Corinthians 13:4-7): “Love is patient and kind. … Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. Paul then stresses the need for believers to be aware of the richness of their Christian inheritance, and to share this love for it with one another.

Against this background he goes on to treat briefly of principles governing Christian social life in the world of his day. He begins with family relations, where respect, love and gentleness should be the governing principles. Parents should not drive children to resentment, as this might make them feel frustrated; or lest they become discouraged, as another translation puts it. All this is food for thought on this feast of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian families. It may be well to recall that Paul’s emphasis on the ideal Christian life does not necessarily mean that the Colossian community was living this ideal. The contrary may well have been the case, and that Paul stresses the ideal because of tensions, divisions and enmity within the Church at Colossae.

Gospel (Year B. Luke 2:22-40). The child grew, filled with wisdom. This passage speaks of the purification of Mary and the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple. Luke stresses the dedication of Mary and Joseph to the fulfilment of the Law of the Lord, the Law of Moses. He mentions it twice, at the journey to the Temple and on leaving it “when they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord”. There were directives in the Law of Moses with regard to the birth of a child, and the birth of firstborn male. With regard to purification, it was only the mother who had to undergo this, and the offering to be made was a lamb, or if too poor to offer a lamb, then a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. The purification was to take place forty days after the birth of the child. With regard to the presentation of the firstborn male, the child had to be offered to the Lord and “redeemed”, but no fixed date for this was laid down. It could of course be connected with the purification, especially by persons who had to travel long distances to Jerusalem and the Temple. Luke speaks in a general way in his introduction to the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple. He speaks twice of the parents of Jesus, although he had already said that Mary was a virgin.

            He next passes to the witness presented to Jesus in the Temple. Jerusalem and the Temple are central to Luke’s presentation of ther Christian message in his Gospel and Acts. The priest Zechariah, the last prophet of the Old Testament, prophesied concerning his own son John. Now in the Temple there was the devout and upright man Simeon through whom the Holy Spirit was about to speak concerning the new age to come through Mary’s child. And together with him there was the prophetess Anna. Simeon was looking forward to the consolation of Israel, while Anna spoke about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Both phrases were probably manifestations of the same hope – fulfilment of the prophecies in a pious holy way. Simeon had received a revelation that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the Christ of the Lord. He now recognizes this Messiah in the arms of Mary, his mother, and prophesizes  in the spirit of the Servant Songs of Isaiah. It is no longer the consolation of Israel or the redemption of Jerusalem, but the salvation of all the nations and a light for the Gentiles, the pagans, although also the glory of Israel.

            And Simeon has also a prophecy for Mary about her Son who is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and as a sign that will be opposed, noting that Mary herself will be involved in a painful way – prophecies that will be fulfilled in the public life and passion of Jesus.

            After these prophecies on the great mission of the child Jesus, Luke’s narrative ends with a reference to the humanity of this child.  He grew and became strong and was filled with wisdom, concerning divine and human affairs, and the favour of God was with him.

  1. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

Dialogue: The Family Today. Let marriage be held in honour by all”.

In a final admonition towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews the author says: “Let marriage be held in honour by all” (Hebrews 13:4). To say that Christian marriage and the family today are under threat would be a truism: so many single-parent families, same-sex unions or marriages and many other examples besides. There is a movement in western countries to treat of traditional marriage as a thing of the past, and to work towards a new form of public life in which it will not be taken account of. This is the world in which we live. This would not be the place to speak at length of this situation. The feast we are celebrating, however, is an occasion for reflect on the current state of affairs and consider what they can do to renew belief in Christian marriage and help those in trouble on the issue.

            A beginning point could be conviction of the importance of Christian marriage, for society, for children and from many other points of view. The Vatican Council has dealt with this question very well in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, especially in its section on “The Dignity of Marriage and the Family. Marriage and the Family in the Modern World” (paragraphs 47-52). Thus for instance: (par. 52). “The family is a kind of school of deeper humanity. But if it is to achieve the full flowering of its life and mission, it needs the kindly communion of minds and the joint deliberation of spouses, as well as the painstaking cooperation of parents in the education of their children. … Thus the family, in which the various generations come together and help one another grow wiser and harmonize personal rights with the other requirements of social life, is the foundation of society”.

Two worlds, our human one and the divine, came together in Jesus, Mary and Joseph, at Jerusalem and Nazareth. Mary and Joseph had their worries about Jesus’ safety.  The Holy Family of Nazareth whose feast we are celebrating can be the model for the family in this rapidly changing world: stability and openness to meaningful change.

Quite an amount of attention is being given today by both civil and religious traditions today on the family in society, including Pope Francis’s call for an examination of current views on the matter. The Church will discuss marriage at consistory meetings. The question was addressed at the extraordinary synod in October 2014 and will again be addressed in the ordinary synod the following year. 2015. Many elements will be examined in more detail and clarified during these sessions. Let us pray the all will lead to marriage being held in greater honour as a result.

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