The Holy Family 2018

We learn from St Luke today that after he had been missing for three days, the distraught parents of Jesus eventually found him meeting with an adult group of teachers in the Temple. It was a significant moment in his life. He was coming of age, entering his teens and beginning to learn about the role of the Messiah outlined in the Jewish Scriptures and which later he would – in the Christian understanding – fulfil.

This Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is presented with having two distinct features. The first is that Joseph was married to and caring for a woman whose child was not naturally his. The second is that all three members spent the early stage of their family life as homeless refugees.

Of all the ways that God could have entered our world, why did God choose this way? Instead of being born into royal family or into a powerful political dynasty, why did God choose a poor family in occupied Palestine and whose baby was born in an animal’s shelter (and not even in a house)? Why did God choose a family set-up where its members had to move from one country to another – and then, when they returned to their own country, had to move and settle down in a town where they were strangers?

Bethlehem was Joseph’s home town but after he and Mary returned from Egypt with their baby, they could not return to Bethlehem but had to move to Nazareth instead. This is where they settled, strangers in a new land, and where Jesus grew from being a baby to the young boy we meet in the Gospel text today.

If there is a word to describe this family’s early, surely it would be the word ‘vulnerable’? Their vulnerability is underlined throughout the Gospel texts that tell us about their life both before and just after the child Jesus was born.

Of course Jesus was no ordinary child. He was – is – Immanuel, the person in whom God existed amongst us in human form. But we cannot forget that the experience of his early life – and his parents’ – was that of scared, unsettled, dispossessed and homeless refugees.

The experience of the Holy family brings to mind that today there are millions of similar families all over the world, uprooted, dispossessed, broken, separated and the victims of power politics and war. In the past four days alone, 12 Channel crossings from France to England have been made by 89 migrants. Since the start of November, 221 migrants are known to have attempted to cross the Channel to England. And the rising number of boat crossings has prompted an increase in the number of unaccompanied child refugees.

How should we as Christians respond to the plight of these people? Mediterranean countries have been grappling with this issue for the past few years and now the ‘problem’ of refugees is increasingly coming closer to our shores.

As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: “Why them and not me?” I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today’s “discarded” people. And that’s why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: “Why them and not me?” ~ Pope Francis, TED Talk 2017

Indeed, if I ask this question – ‘why them and not me? – how do I think the Lord wants me to respond?

And of all the ways open to God to enter our world, is there a related reason why God choose for Jesus to be a member of a refugee family?

Michael Campion
Holy Name, Jesmond
30 December 2018


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