We are so used to the plaster and plastic images of the Holy Family that we can easily forget that they were real people, who lived in a real place, and at a real time. Theirs wasn’t an easy time to be sure. When Jesus was born they lived under the rule of the autocratic and tyrannical puppet King Herod called “the Great.” A few years later, after the death of Herod, the Romans seized direct control of the area of Judah around Jerusalem. As they lived in the Galilean village of Nazareth, the Holy Family lived under the rule of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas who was more benevolent and less powerful than was his father. Their daily life was certainly more challenging than ours today, but they would have lived in modest comfort for their time and place. As a family they would have done all of the normal life events that we would expect and continue to do for our families today.
The Gospel for this feast depicts Joseph and Mary presenting their son at the Temple in accordance with the Mosaic Law. This was an ordinary event in the life of a Jewish family as they would take their first born son and dedicate him to the Lord. It was an act of thanksgiving to God for granting them a son. They did so as a reminder of the killing of the first born sons of the Egyptians in the tenth plague from the time of the Exodus. Joseph and Mary would have been among many families fulfilling this prescript of the Law on this day. To those around them they would have just been an ordinary couple engaged in an ordinary religious ritual.
In making this offering to the Lord they are committing themselves to rearing their son according to the Law of Moses. They know that they are the first teachers of the Law to their children, and so are now making the public declaration of their intentions to do so. We might think that all of the people of their time, and certainly all of the Jewish people, we devout and fervent in the practice, and while that was largely true, it was not always true.
In the evenings, as the sun grew dim after dinner, the Holy Family, like most families, would have told the stories of times past. Joseph would certainly have committed much of the Torah to memory, and would recite those stories to his wife and son. Over time, as he grew older, the telling of the stories of the Patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets would have fallen to Jesus as he prepared to become a bar-Mitzvah (“son of the Covenant”).
Like all families they had their daily struggles to be sure. Joseph’s work was intensive and he was probably away from home at a job site for much of the week. The other families in the village were in similar circumstances, so Mary and Jesus would have cooperated with their neighbors for daily chores. Undoubtedly some of the older children in the village would have assisted Mary when Jesus was young and Joseph was away, and Jesus would have done the same for younger families as he grew older.
It was a life where faith, family, and hard work were engrained into the daily routine.
When we present our children for baptism, we are making a commitment not too dissimilar from that of the Holy Family as they presented Jesus in the Temple. We are the first teachers of the faith for our children. Along with teaching our children the basics of navigating daily life, taking on chores, enjoying their athletic, artistic and social activities, we are charged with preparing them for a life of faith. We teach our children how to pray, to follow the Ten Commandments, and to know the stories of the Scriptures and of the saints, not because they are quaint, but because our first task as parents is to lead our children to eternal life.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]