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 (Lk 2:48-50).
We are now in the Octave of Christmas. The Church has decided that the Solemnity of Christmas is to be celebrated over an eight day period because we need time to ponder the great mystery of the Incarnation to better understand its implications for us in our daily lives.
Each time we hear the accounts that there was no room for them at the inn, Jesus was born in a stable, shepherds and magi come to see the new born king, today’s account of Jesus being found in the Temple, our response is not to be, “Oh, we have heard that story so many times before, I am going to check out now.” Instead, each time we are invited into the story, to allow the retelling of these accounts to draw us deeper into the Mystery they convey.
One of the reasons that we may resist this practice of pondering, may be because we do not understand what the Gospel accounts are talking about. We are modern people living in our own time, experiencing our own culture, language and perspectives. In fact, in today’s account from Luke, Mary, who lived the day to day nuances of ancient Palestine, knew Jesus for twelve years, still does not understand what he says to her, that he stayed behind instead of traveling with them because he had to be in his Father’s house. If Mary has some trouble understanding, we need to have patience with ourselves when we struggle to understand as well.
Often our immediate response to our lack of understanding is one of frustration, aggravation, impatience, or worse indifference or seeing no relevance from the readings to our time and daily living. May we resist this knee-jerk reaction and instead follow the lead of Mary. Let us ponder, let us keep all these things in our heart. Luke only mentions that she and Joseph did not understand, there is no mention of a Joseph head slap to the back of the head, no Mary mentioning how long Jesus would be grounded when they got back to Nazareth. Just that Jesus was obedient and followed Mary and Joseph home. I am sure during their journey home, as with many of their experiences with Jesus, there was some serious pondering.
Often we find in the Gospels, that Jesus’ words and actions, pull us up short, they stop us in our tracks. When this happens we are receiving the invitation from Jesus to reevaluate our life, how we have been thinking, living, and how we can be better human beings. We can certainly understand the Bible a bit better through researching the historical, psychological, and sociological background, as well as scholarly commentaries to gain context, just as we can in studying any form of literature. Yet, along with our intellectual pursuit, we must also be willing to engage our soul, because our mind can only take us so far. We are created as human beings, which means we are physical as well as spiritual beings, people of reason and faith.
Pope St John Paul II said that living a life of faith without reason is superstition, and Albert Einstein said that living a life of reason without faith is boring.
To understand the teachings and leading of Jesus in our life, we need to let go of the absolute security we place in our own autonomy. We need to acknowledge that we are not the center of the universe, we need to let go of our false sense of freedom that states, “I can do what I want, when I want, and how I want and I want to understand right now.” God has created us as transcendent beings, and to be fulfilled in our lives, and to experience the reality of both, we need to be willing to open ourselves to the divine.
Part of understanding Sacred Scripture and not only understanding but knowing Jesus, is learning his language. Not literally Aramaic, but the language of his very being as fully human and fully divine. Pope St. Paul VI wrote that we need to learn from the school of the Holy Family. “The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers.”
We don’t just read the Gospels to finish, close the cover, and walk away. We need to allow ourselves to be still, to rest for awhile in the presence of God’s word and allow ourselves to experience being loved and guided by him. By doing so, we come to learn the language that Jesus spoke to us. Jesus’ language of love was not just an emotion, but a willing the good of the other, as other. An invitation to participate in his life. To learn and understand the language that Jesus speaks we must slow down.
When we experience the love of God we are for that moment, no longer governed by our fears and wounds. We are able to let go of our defensiveness and begin to trust. When we are willing to surrender daily to the will of God, we become less and Jesus becomes more the center of our lives. In this way, we will come to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, minds and souls that begin to understand the word and will of God. When we, like Mary, learn to ponder, we too will hear God who speaks in the silence of our hearts, we too will then come to know him and better understand what he has to teach us so as to become contemplatives in action.
Photo: Making some time to study in the School of Nazareth, by pondering the Gospel of Luke in the Word On Fire Bible: The Gospels.
Quote from Pope St Paul VI from an address, “Nazareth”, that he gave January 5, 1964.