Biblical parents are just like us
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Today is the feast of Joaquim and Anne, parents of Mary, mother of Jesus. These two figures occupy a mysterious place in the story of salvation. Scripture tells us absolutely nothing about Mary's parents, not even their names. When the angel comes to her in the first chapter of Luke, Mary goes not to her mother but to her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who is herself miraculously pregnant.
Who were these two people? How did they meet? What was their marriage like? What were the circumstances of Mary's birth? How did they each relate with her? The readings for their feast imagine that they were faithful people: In Sirach, we hear praise of ancestors who kept God's covenant, how their name and example will live on forever. In the Gospel, Jesus likewise praises those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. But in terms of specifics about their lives, we know nothing.
This is not an uncommon issue in Scripture. The Bible is filled with stories about holy men and women, but it has very few stories about parents, and most of those are about people who want to become parents, rather than about people who are already parents. So Genesis dedicates 13 chapters to the story of Abram and Sarai, who leave everything and everyone in their lives behind because God promises to give them a child. But of those 13 chapters, only one, the sacrifice of Isaac, is dedicated to their experience as parents, and what a strange and harrowing tale that is.
Maybe today’s call from Scripture is to allow yourself some time just to sit with your own experiences as a parent—whether that's parent to your children or mentor and carer to those of others.
But from a spiritual point of view, the lack of information about Anne and Joachim is also an invitation. It's like the writers of Scripture have left a big blank space in the narrative for us to fill in with our own lives. Every parent and aunt and uncle and grandparent and teacher and neighbor has their own experience of raising children. Some of those experiences might seem ugly, times we feel like we blew it; others are filled with awe and wonder. But they are all part of the experience of parenting a child, and part of the life that Anne and Joaquim led. To raise any child is to live in the constant presence of a miracle and a mystery.
Maybe today’s call from Scripture is to allow yourself some time just to sit with your own experiences as a parent—whether that's parent to your children or mentor and carer to those of others. If you let God lead you, what moments come to mind? Perhaps moments of blessing for you to savor again. Or perhaps there are past choices or events that still need healing. If so, maybe we can hand them over to Joaquim and Anne. They were parents like us. They can help us.