May God guide my
lips and the Holy Ghost,
my heart as we look to the Words of our Lord.
Do you have any
family tales about children left behind? Hollywood found it plausible
when they created the great comedy “Home Alone” with Macaulay Culkin
living out great adventures when the family on vacation only discovered he
was missing half-way across the Atlantic.
And my own children love to
remind me of the TWO occasions on which my husband and I, in separate
cars, drove off leaving one of the children behind at a gas station –
thinking the child was with the other. And I respond with the innumerable
times we couldn’t get away because a child had disappeared . . . while MY
trump card is the time my daughter Morgana, shopping with my husband, fell
asleep under a dress rack and Eaton’s dedicated all their clerks, Security
and PA systems to the search for her.
And as today’s
Gospel reminds us, another child went missing on a family vacation 2000
years ago . . .
Maybe that’s why this has
always been one of my favourite Bible stories: it’s just so believable .
. . their family reminding me of mine.
Here was the Holy Family
traveling to Jerusalem to join their relatives for the Feast of the
Passover . . . much the same way as we all get together at Christmas
and Easter. Finished with the festivities and worship they head off on
the caravan journey home. It’s 70 miles or so and they’re walking . . .
expecting to spend 4 or 5 enjoyable days traveling along with their
Now, when it’s time to
leave and, as we all know: the last thing a pre-teen wants to do is be
seen in public with his parents . . . it would have been the first century
version of the arguments we hear to-day: “ . . . ma’s robe is so B.C. . .
. ”; and “ . . . Dad insists on singing out of tune and talking to every
donkey he sees . . . ”,; and “ . . . they always walk with the Cohens and
their kid is such a dork . . . “
We all know how that goes .
So, to keep
peace, Mom and Dad strike the deal: their son can travel with the other
boys running on ahead, as long as he doesn’t get into trouble, tease the
girls or spook the animals. Those things we say to our children . . and
he has to turn up in time for supper with the family . . . and don’t
forget, that means with clean hands! And he’s not going to stay up late
sitting around the campfire all night, because the days are long and
there’s a lot of countryside to cover.
So, in the
morning their boy is up early and off with his friends. And after the
final bag is packed, the parents set off too . . . Mary sharing recipes
and the latest in gossip, while Joseph does indeed sing off-key and talks
to the owners of all the donkeys and camels and dogs that cross his path
and he picks up a couple of good commissions for his carpentry shop along
When they reach the first
night’s camping site, they set up their tent and Mary’s gets dinner going
. . . and as night descends they start to look for their
late-to-dinner-son. Initially, Dad wanders from campfire to campfire
asking for him. Then, dinner getting cold, together they begin to call
out his name . . . and then some of his friends confirm their worst fears
. . . their son hasn’t been seen all day.
pictures that haunt every parent’s nightmares spring to frightful
reality: . . . their son lying alone and in pain and abandoned . . . a
wild animal, a thief, an accident . . . Hastily, they repack and
abandon their campsite. They retrace their steps to Jerusalem, searching,
with their heart in their throats, every sand dune along the way . . .
responding to every noise in the night, that might be a moan.
But the boy was not to be
He had not returned to the
inn. No one had seen him. With the dawn they resumed their hunt: asking
strangers, enlisting the help of friends and searching through every back
alley of the town.
Finally, in the temple they
among the temple’s elders . . . impressing them with His intelligence –
His sharp answers . . . basking in their approval. But that didn’t
register with His parents.
They only saw a disobedient
son who had not done what He had promised to do. A son whose lack of
concern was a lack of concern for their upset and hurt: their days of
worry; their frantic return to find him.
They must have wanted to
shake him until his teeth rattled!
And when Mary demanded,
“How could you do this to us? We’ve been out of our minds with worry for
you” . . . instead of pleas for forgiveness; or apologies or explanations
. . . or at least a bit of a hang-dog look, how did the Bible report his
“How is it that ye sought
me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” His version
of, “You should have known I’d be shooting hoops . . . or hanging out
with the guys . . . or jamming with the band. I’m a big kid now. I’d of
got home OK . . . just stop freaking out. How am I ever going to make it
if I don’t practice? You’re always on my case. OK, OK, I’m coming . . .
And the Bible
assures us that he went home and lived obediently – but his Mother spent a
lot of time worrying about all that had happened.
thing about this story is how the Holy Family interacts. This isn’t the
saintly, eyes-uplifted, angels fluttering about image so often portrayed
in art. This is the flesh and blood human beings who worry and celebrate
and follow their own interests and travel and worship, just as all their
neighbours did. This is the real, human, being who was Jesus – and His
So what does this
Bible story tell us as we arrive at this pivotal point of the year? When
we look backward on all those things which we did – and shouldn’t have
done. And see those things which we didn’t do – and ought to have done.
And as we look ahead at that wonderful clean sheet that is 2007 and we
make our resolutions to lose weight, or live inside our budget, or get a
new job, or do better at school, or love more and hate less . . . what can
we take home from this morning’s lesson?
think we can cut ourselves a little slack from reading it. After all,
Christ who was so full of love, could still frighten and hurt those who
loved Him the most and knew Him the best. So let’s accept that we all
make mistakes . . . we all fall short . . . and our best intentions
sometimes have unexpected consequences. But that doesn’t mean we
shouldn’t say I’m sorry or that we shouldn’t try harder.
story reminds us that we don’t always understand why others do what they
do: but we can be responsible for our own actions. In this day and age
it seems that everyone expects an insurance policy guaranteeing that
whatever happens they are not responsible: someone else is always to
blame. But if we look at just about any clash, there was someway we could
have avoided it. It’s true, Jesus should have told his parents that He
had to go to the temple before He left . . . and it would have spared them
a good deal of suffering. But equally true, His parents could have
checked that He was with them before they left town and saved themselves a
long journey and much worry. So perhaps this story will remind us to stop
pointing fingers at each other and look in the mirror when something
reminds us that we all must be about God’s business. We need to learn
more, serve more and love more. We also need to learn how to trust God.
We need to put our hand in His and let Him show us the way.
Haskins, at the turn of the last century wrote this poem which says far
better than I can, my wish for you as we greet the New Year:
I said to the man who stood
at the Gate of the Year;
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
He replied, 'Go into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way."
And to that I add . . .
May that almighty hand
uphold and guide us all throughout 2007 . . .
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