Sunday Scripture: Above all else, put love
Thursday, December 23, 2010
By Sister Betty J. Lillie, S.C.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Sirach 3:2-7,12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
A beautiful part of the Christmas traditions is the visitof the Magi to the Holy Family. That comes in Matthew’s Gospel just before ourGospel passage for this week. Because Herod learned of a newborn king,Joseph was told to flee to Egypt with Mary and the child Jesus. They remainedthere until the death of Herod and then returned to the district of Nazarethand dwelt there.
It might be surprising to some to consider what kind ofcity Nazareth was in that time in history. It was then, and to some extent isnow, on top of a huge rock that rose above the Roman city of Sepphoris. Therewas no water source there, and generally there was little plant life. Thewater source that is now dry was at the bottom of the hill. Galilee had a littlemore moderate climate than Jerusalem, but Nazareth was in a district outside ofSepphoris where the workers and the less affluent members of the populationlived. It was about an hour’s walk down the hill to the city, and a slower walkto return home. The people’s livelihood was likely in their working for theRomans in the flourishing city of Sepphoris where they could procureimported food and find water for survival.
In the Roman city there were Jewish schools taught bywell-known rabbis. One can imagine Joseph walking to work in the morning andtaking Jesus along to go to school. In your mind’s eye envision for amoment the boy Jesus when He was 12 years old in discussion with the teachersin the Jerusalem temple. The elders wondered where He got Hisunderstanding and His answers. Not only could He answer them, He could engagethem in questions (Luke 2:46-47).
The Roman cities of that time were generally involved intrading, in the arts, and in magnificent architecture. All of that providedwork opportunities and a vision of life beyond the top of the rock. It is verypossible that Jesus grew up in that milieu.
In that cultural setting, the people of Nazareth may havebeen faithful to follow their own traditions at home, and to use thevirtues of family life as a guide for life in Nazareth. Paul talks about compassion,kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, among others. He also says thatabove all these the family should put on love. He goes on to describe in hisLetter to the Colossians the peace of Christ that can rule there, andthe rich heritage of the word and the wisdom of Christ by which we teach andpray.
All of that has deep roots in Jewish tradition as we readin the wisdom of Ben Sirah. His advice to his students revolves around loveand honor for parents that bring glory and gladness to the home and enrich itsprayer life. Further, as time goes on, helping and respecting parents bringsblessings on their children and the glory that comes fromunderstanding.
The psalmist’s prayer sings the praise of family life,rooted in walking in the way of the Lord, and in the happiness that comes fromlabor. Peace be upon all (Psalm 128).
Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.