Happy Christmas! Talking about how families are supposed to behave is bound to create argument as everyone has their own theory. So, I intend to try and reveal what God says…
The First Reading is not normal behaviour for a parent. To set the scene, we must remember that Hannah was childless for a long time. Samuel is their only child.
At that time children were the primary security for the parents as they grow older.
Giving up the child to God at three years of age must be read in the light of complete trust in God for my future and the future of the child.
One could argue that Hannah has pre-programmed her son to be a prophet: is that fair?
Every parent makes choices for their children: it’s part of the role/duty of parents.
When the child is old enough, they can make their own decisions. Samuel could have left Eli after a few years and returned home or gone off to “do his own thing.”
We don’t know the rest of the story; but, being a mother, I’m sure she would have visited her son many times to ensure he was OK. I doubt he was abandoned completely.
So, the first reading teaches us to do our best for our children and:
1) TRUST God;
2) Don’t make your child a slave to yourself or your own desires.
The Gospel can be read rightly or wrongly. Jesus was learning to be a human being.
Should we criticise Mary and Joseph for “losing” Jesus?
Do we criticise Jesus for, as Mary said: “My child, why have, you done this to us?”
As a 12 year old boy in a “Village family” culture, you don’t expect them to think like an adult.
What is critically important in this Gospel is the response of Jesus:
“He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority.”
Obedience is not an easy virtue to practice and, in many parts of the world, there is a real tension in families trying to raise their children. There is a struggle with obedience.
As one parent expressed it: these days, we parents have to negotiate with our children.
The last sentence of the Gospel today is very encouraging:
“And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.”
This is the key to success in life: obedience to proper authority. And, when we link it with the First Reading, trusting that those God has given authority over us know what is best for us – at least for the short term and, when very young, the medium term.
Parents choose schools, religion, sport opportunities, extra curricula activities,
and often have a wise input/opinion about the choice of marriage partner!
Children have little understanding of the world and the consequences of their actions.
So, it is critical that parents and community “laws” protect our children from danger, and help them develop healthy “boundaries” and a healthy fear of doing “wrong”; ie. consequences.
I put “wrong” in quotes to indicate that people have different understandings of what is wrong.
Many Western societies are struggling to maintain a level of moral behaviour that helps people respect themselves and others. This is a concern for all of us who profess to be Christian.
Jesus was very clear in other parts of the Gospel: warning that anyone who harms a child will be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck.
Harming children can be DIRECT: abusing children or depriving them of food, safety, etc.
Or, INDIRECT: keeping quiet when others abuse children; or remaining silent when laws are created that permit children to do harmful things at the wrong time:
eg. driving, drugs, alcohol, sex, medical changes, abortion without parental knowledge, etc.
So, to summarise God’s input for us today:
1) We are invited to trust God through our parents;
2) Protect our children and make decisions for them;
3) Be obedient to proper authority – not just children, but also as adults.
The payoff is that we will grow in Wisdom and knowledge, and
in favour with men and women around us.
If we are in favour with our community, it means we will find employment and success in life!
And, finally, as St Paul shared with us: treat each other with respect & be active in kindness.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI