Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Christ Child in the Temple

IMG_0277We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt.

These words, from Pope Francis' sermon last Sunday on the Holy Family, are puzzling. Because we know exactly how the Christ Child responded to the question put to Him by Our Lady - a question which does indeed 'contain a certain reproach'. St Luke's narrative continues with the perplexing but pregnant words of the Man God:

Quid est quod me quaerebatis? nesciebatis quia in his quae Patris mei sunt, oportet me esse?

And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?

St Luke adds three further pieces of information. First, that they did not understand this reply. Second, that Our Lady kept these words of His in her heart. And third, that, returning to Nazareth, He was subject to them.

It is not unusual for Our Lord to say things which His hearers did not understand: it happens a great deal in the Gospels, and the uncomprehending hearers include not only hostile Pharisees, but open-minded crowds and sympathetic disciples. In this case the sinless Virgin herself did not understand. What is the point of saying something no one understands? It is no mystery: St Luke tells us. She kept the words in her heart. She came to understand them later, as the disciples did with many of Our Lord's words and actions. The outstanding examples of course were Our Lord's prophecies of His coming Passion and Resurrection; another was His Transfiguration.

The Christ Child's sojourn in the Temple was not some childish prank. It was a prophetic action, with layer upon layer of symbolic meaning. It speaks of Christ's taking up of His authority, and of His divine Wisdom. It speaks of His future disappearance for three days in the Tomb, and of His triumphant return. It gave Our Lady a reminder of the prophecy of Simeon, delivered in the same Temple, of the sword which would pierce her heart. It reminded St Joseph that the authority he had over Our Lord was one which Jesus had voluntarily taken upon Himself, just as He submitted voluntarily to the authority of the Mosaic Law.

The words of the Holy Father don't seem very carefully chosen; the best I can suggest as a pious reading of them is that the 'escapade' would have required a kind of reconciliation among the Holy Family, at the emotional, though not at the moral, level. Even this is awkward, however, in light of Our Lady's perfect alignment with the Divine Will. 'Begging forgiveness' is hardly the phrase required. It is Our Lord's confidence in His sinlessness which is truly shocking to a modern ear. (John 8:46)

Quis ex vobis arguet me de peccato? 

Which of you shall convince me of sin? 
The Holy Family is indeed a model of all human families, but this homely fact should not lead us into reading Scripture in an unspiritual way. In reading the charming infancy narratives, and this single story of Our Lord's boyhood, we have to keep the whole of the Gospel message in mind. These stories are overshadowed by the Cross. What Our Lord did to Our Lady and St Joseph at twelve, causing them pain and anxiety, he would do again, in a more extreme way, to Our Lady and the disciples, when he was 33. All motives of human affection, of being nice to people in a superficial and mundane way, would in that decisive moment give way to the one truly important consideration: of being about His Father's business.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Either one considers Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God or as a wise man, like Socrates, Gandhi, or M.L.K. The interpretation of each episode of the Gospels will differ accordingly.

  3. Many clergy like to try and use this passage to drag the Holy Family down to the level of 'just like us'. They say it shows they had their strife and arguments, just as 'every other' family does. These clergy knock the idea that the Holy Family was perfect, even though two of its members were sinless, and the third is now one of the greatest saints in Heaven. I even heard Our Lord's actions likened to an adolescent rebellion!

    It's astonishing to hear even priests you thought were quite good coming out with this stuff. I detect von Balthasar's influence.

    (Funnily enough, none of these priests say the TLM.)

  4. Those who are "just like us" are the clergy. Like the majority of Catholics from the 60's onward, they neither know nor embrace the right faith and morals.

  5. Dear Dr Shaw,

    You must be more patient with Pope Francis. You see his problem, on his own admission, is that unlike us married people he is NOT made in the image of God viz: “This tells us that it is not man alone who is the image of God or woman alone who is the image of God, but man and woman as a couple who are the image of God.” (Francis, General Audience, 15 April 2015). Quoted in the Relatio Synodi clause 8.

    Perhaps this explains a lot about the clergy?

  6. Is the Pope a Christian in any way at all?I am a member of The Latin Mass society-thank God -and i find Francis most disturbing.The smoke of Satan entered the Church in ,or around,1969, and is still in the Vatican as we speak.I will pray for Francis for he sure needs our prayers.God Bless.

  7. “Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents”

    The Gospel says the opposite”!

    “Did you not know I was to be about my Father's Business”. Or rather, when will you face up to what you both already know!

    Not exactly an example of the anger of Christ, rather His impatience.

    Notably, Our Lady had done this by the time of Cana, when she said in effect, just ignore Him, He can make water into wine if He so chooses and choose He will if I (with him from before the bounds of the water were set, Epistle Immaculate Conception), am telling Him to do so!

    Also families were different in those days. It was after all a full day before Our Lady and Joseph went to look for Him. They would be locked up nowadays for that! (Luke 2:44). Having said that they were more niggled about the trouble He had caused.

    After all he was twelve. When I was twelve, well certainly thirteen, my pal and I would disappear all day exploring the local hills and neither set of parents saw anything unusual in our day long absence!

  8. Sorry, Jacobi. Like Pope Francis, you do not seem to take into account that human and divine nature are united in Christ in a union without change, without separation, and without confusion. Our Lord, true God and true man, had all His emotions under perfect control. He could let them loose, but only if he chose so. And He was never impatient, in so far as being impatient (unwilling to suffer) is an imperfection. He fully knew that He was doing His Father's will by staying in the temple. He was fulfilling prophecy (Super senes intellexi: quia mandata tua quæsivi.Ps. 118:100) and, by disappearing for three days, He was also foretelling to the Mother of God His own death and glorious resurrection.

  9. Quite the contrary. I take into account that Christ had a fully Divine and fully human nature. How they interacted, well who am I to say. But interact they did.

    And I am not at all sure what you point is? On reflection I think we agreeing. But then who am I to judge on such matters?

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  11. What I object to are the references to alleged impatience and immaturity. They seem to imply that the human nature of Christ partook of original sin, which cannot be. The human nature of Christ was immaculate. Hence He could not have any imperfection but He was all holy from the moment of His conception. So there is no room for impatience or immaturity in the twelve-year-old Christ.

  12. The Gospel stories are very telescoped and give only the bare outline of events and episodes. Why cannot we fill in the details and imagine the 12-year-old Jesus as being impatient and immature, enjoying escapades like any human child? This does not detract from his divinity at all. Despite professing belief in the Incarnation Christians often do not want to accept wholeheartedly the humanity of Christ. They want him to be perfect and immaculate, a "spiritual" being far removed from ordinary humanity, but if we do believe he is fully human, as well as fully divine, we need to take that seriously. otherwise our religion easily becomes so etherealised as to lose touch with this world altogether - and what use is it then?

  13. Why? Because the humanity of the Lord was united with His divinity. Would you store the Blessed Sacrament in a plastic container? No, but in a golden ciborium. Likewise, we cannot attribute the defects of our fallen human nature to the human nature of Christ. I recommend those with doubts should read the article about the Incarnation in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

    1. What is not assumed is not redeemed, but clearly many Christians do not really want a God who enters into the full messiness of our human condition. They prefer a Platonic form of the good existing in some imagined ideal world far above the hurly-burly. As someone said, Plato has had more influence on Christianity than Jesus Christ. Hope you enjoy your feast of discarnation.

    2. Jesus' sinlessness made him more human, more truly human, not less. Our sinfulness makes us inhuman.