Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Feast of the Holy Family

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

December 25, 2018

Blessings on this Christmas Season! The Feast of the Incarnation is followed closely by the Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Today we are grateful for families as we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 30 2018 . You will find both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and various Christmas excerpts. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Christmas with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity

Luke 2:41-52

Each year his Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.


For Luke, the author of this Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles, Jerusalem is a significant place. His gospel begins in Jerusalem, with Zechariah entering the Holy of Holies and learning of the future birth of John. Luke’s gospel ends in Jerusalem with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jerusalem is where the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and are sent out into the world.

In this gospel text Luke notes that Jesus is twelve years old. The Law of Moses requires that every male child at this age make the trip to Jerusalem for Passover. This then is the first time Jesus would have been allowed to make the journey with the other adult members of his community, and read the Word of God in the temple. It marks his standing as an adult within the community and a time of transition for Jesus.

Traditionally twelve was the age when boys left the world of their mothers and the other women, and they entered the much harsher world of their fathers and the other adult males. The women of the extended family had been exclusively responsible for the raising of the children. Sons, because they were more valued, received special attention. When the boys left the protection of the women, the fathers and men of the community believed it was their responsibility to prepare them for the harsh realities of the world, where they would be responsible for the survival and protection of their family and community.

The caravans of pilgrims, like the rest of society, were segregated. Women and children traveled separately from the men. Because Jesus was just twelve, he might have traveled with either the men or the women. Therefore, Mary could have reasonably presumed that Jesus was traveling with Joseph, and Joseph assumed that he was traveling with Mary. Apparently, when the caravan stopped for the night, each learned that Jesus was not traveling with the other. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem, perhaps without the benefit of traveling with a group.

They found their son involved in a discussion with the religious teachers of the temple. Luke seems to portray Jesus as one of the learned religious wise men of the day. But at the same time, Jesus is also shown as an irresponsible member of his family. He has been the cause of great stress and perhaps imperiled Mary and Joseph in their return to Jerusalem. His response to them in verse 49 adds to his poor behavior. (The form of verb that is used in “don’t you know” is plural, indicating he is addressing both Mary and Joseph.) While the text does not include Jesus’ recognition of his lack of responsibility, or an apology to Mary and Joseph, it does conclude by stating that Jesus returned with them and remained obedient to them, again plural. In the last verse of the text, Luke states that Jesus advanced in age, wisdom, and favor before God and men.

By including what might be looked upon as a humiliating story about Jesus’ shameful lack of consideration to his parents, Luke is making a theological statement about who Jesus’ true Father is. In responding to his parent’s concern about his absence from their caravan, he tells them he has been in his Father’s house (verse 49). Jesus is not only living between the worlds of men and women of his day, but he is also living between the world of his father Joseph’s house and that of his Heavenly Father. Just as Jesus has not fully made the transition to a responsible adult of his day, neither has he completely made the transition to God his Father at this point in the gospel. Therefore, he returns to Nazareth, and in doing so he advances before God and men.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of your own transition from adolescent to being an adult, some of the things that come to mind are…
2. When you think of Mary and Joseph stopping at the end of a day’s journey and discovering that Jesus is not among them…
3. When you imagine Jesus getting caught up in a discussion with the teachers of the day…
4. When you hear Jesus respond to his parents’ concern for him, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”, what feelings and thoughts are most present to you?
5. Can you take some time now to talk with God about the image of Jesus that Luke presents here, or about your own experience of becoming an adult, or your struggle now to live both in your real world and in the world of God?

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