Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
Exile, deportation and seeking asylum in other countries have been common in our history. Wars and civil strife have torn apart many families, and separated parents and children, brothers and sisters, or husbands and wives for many years, and, often, perpetually.
The story of Boris and Anna Kozlov is very touching. Boris and Anna Kozlov were married in 1946. After three days Boris had to ship out with his Red Army unit. By the time he returned, Anna was gone, consigned by Stalin’s purges to internal exile in Siberia with the rest of her family. Nobody knew where the family was, or what had happened to Anna... Boris became frantic. He tried everything he could to find his young bride, but it was in vain. She was gone.
After 60 years, one day, Anna Kozlov caught sight of the elderly man clambering out of a car in her home village of Borovlyanka in Siberia. There, in front of her, was Boris. An extraordinary coincidence leads them both to return to their home village on the very same day. 60 years of separation has made their reunion inexpressibly joyful.
In today’s Gospel we heard Mathew’s account that Jesus’ family had to be separated from their kinsmen due to Herod’s decision to annihilate Jesus. Joseph was asked to flee to Egypt with the child, and he obeyed the command of the Angel.
From His birth to the beginning of His public life, Jesus chose to experience all the aspects of human life. If Jesus was to help men, he must know what were men’s lives. He did not come to a protected life, but he came to the life that any ordinary man must live. He experienced the hardships of the people who are forced to leave their home and kinsmen; he experienced the problems of an ordinary workman, while working as a carpenter in Nazareth; and He experienced the pangs of death when his foster father died.
Just as every family has to face problems and overcome them, the Holy Family had to face and overcome their problems. The first problem encountered by the Holy Family was its flight into Egypt as refugees because Jesus’ life was in danger due to Herod’s murderous intentions. This is one of the experiences of many of the chosen men. When Abraham was called, he was commanded to leave his father’s house and go to an unknown land. Joseph was sold to the Egyptian traders and he was forced to leave his father’s house and go to Egypt. The choice of Moses was accompanied by his escape from the palace of Pharaoh and flight into an unknown land. This is an unconditional demand that was placed on the people who have found favour with God. Jesus was no exception to this. As a baby, Jesus grew up in an alien land without the company of kith and kin. When we have to leave our country for any reason, leaving our dear ones behind, remember that the Holy Family had the same experience before us; when we are abandoned by our relatives, remember that the Holy Family experienced it; when we are forsaken by our friends, remember that the Holy Family had undergone the same experience.
When instructed by the Angel Joseph returned from Egypt. But it was unsafe to go to Judea. So he was guided to go to Galilee. The Holy Family settled in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. The child hood of Jesus was spent in Nazareth.
In Nazareth Jesus was growing up to boyhood, and then to manhood, in a good home. A good home is a great gift. We are all here today, because God gifted us with good homes. The training of Jesus was initiated in a good home under the guidance of a good mother. George Herbert once said, “A good mother is worth a hundred school masters”. The mother’s approach to the children should be realistic, and their ambitions achievable. When mother’s become over possessive and demanding, children try to evade them.
In Nazareth Jesus was fulfilling the duties of an eldest son. He accepted the simple duties at home, and he honoured His father and mother. Every culture evidences the instinct to reverence ancestors, especially one’s own parents. But, in the fast pacing world, often, we do not have time to spare for the elderly people.
Today’s first reading, from the book of Sirach summarizes the relationship of father, mother and children. Sirach reminds children of their duty to honour their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the two-fold reward which the Bible promises to those who honour their father and mother - “riches” and “long life”. These are two things we all wish for.
The Feast of the Holy Family teaches us to inculcate in our children the virtue of honouring the elders. As St Paul says:
"Bring them up in the training and instruction
of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)
In Nazareth Jesus was learning the life of ordinary man. Jesus worked as a carpenter, and earned his livelihood. Jesus knew the world in which he was living. Jesus studied the people around Him. Jesus understood the people to whom He was going to announce the Good News. So he was called “one among them.” In our eagerness and anxiety to provide the best for our children we do not give them any chance to experience the world in which they live. We try to provide them the best education, so they ignore the illiteracy around. We struggle to provide them the best food, so they are unaware of the poverty that exists around them. We want to give them the best of everything, so they do not see the suffering in the world. Hence, there is no wonder if they behave like Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France.
A rioting mob, forced into violence due to starvation gathered outside the palace. The Queen asked what all the uproar was about. She was told: “They have no bread.” She said, “If they have no bread, let them eat meat.” The Queen who was living in abundance and luxury could not understand the lot of a starving man.
The Holy Family of Nazareth - Jesus, Mary and Joseph is put before us by the Church as a model for our families to imitate. In today’s second reading St Paul gives some practical suggestions to model our families like the Holy family:
“Wives, give way to your husbands,
as you should in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives
and treat them with gentleness,
Children, be obedient to your parents always,
because that is what will please the Lord.
Parents, never drive your children to resentment
or you will make them feel frustrated.”