Family life in the Bible is both difficult and grace-filled. Joseph’s brothers planned to kill him and then decided instead to sell him into slavery, but their reunion years later is among the most touching scenes in the Bible. Similarly, David had a strained relationship with his brothers, but it was a visit to them that inspired him to fight Goliath. Even Jesus had a complicated relationship with his family. After he relocated to Capernaum, his visits back to Nazareth did not go well. Mark tells us that Jesus’ family once came to drag him away because they thought he had lost his mind. Nonetheless, Catholics today honor his parents, grandparents and kinsman James among the greatest of the saints.
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him. (Lk 2:33)
How deep is your faith in God’s promises to you?
How does God’s work in the lives of others lead you to deeper faith?
“He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11). It is easy to miss the grace that comes from family. The old adage “Familiarity breeds contempt” is to no one more applicable than to the people with whom we live. Years of proximity to them can lull us into forgetting that in every person God is still at work. It is easy to miss the changes, or not to appreciate all they signify.
We must never forget that God works through created things to communicate divine love. This was certainly the case for Abraham and Sarah, who saw their son Isaac as the culmination of their own faith in God’s promise. Isaac’s birth proved that God was alive and at work in the world.
The author of this week’s second reading saw an even deeper reality in the birth of Isaac. Through it, all humanity learned that God will fulfill every promise. Thus, the eternal life that God promised the Son and his disciples will be as inevitable as Isaac’s birth.
Many of us might have difficulty finding such grace among our own families. If so, we are in good company; Mary and Joseph had the same problem. Patristic and medieval commentators found it odd that Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus left Mary and Joseph “amazed at what was said about him.” The child’s parents had already heard from Gabriel, Elizabeth, the shepherds and the whole heavenly host that Jesus was an exceptional source of divine grace. In spite of this, Simeon’s reminder caught them off guard. Likewise, we often forget that our loved ones can play an extraordinary role in our own life.
Today’s feast reminds us to seek God’s love anew through our loved ones. It may be hard to spot. Long familiarity dulls our attention. Humility or embarrassment may cause those closest to us to hide evidence of God at work in their lives. We can catch sight of God in others only when we, like Abraham and Sarah, first recognize God at work in our own lives. We can let the grace in others transform us only when we, like the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, appreciate their struggle to trust God’s word. The trust others had in God’s promises led Jesus’ parents through their amazement to a deeper faith. Just so today, the work of grace in our families can strengthen our own trust in God’s love for us.