Saturday, 31 December 2011

Family Ties

Luke 2:22,39-40
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
  When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
God's favour seems to mean something different to God than it does to us.

Jesus does not have the fostering of Moses; the charisma of Joseph or even the prophetic hope of John. It is much simpler than that.

God's favour seems to grant him parents that love him; the curiosity of youth and the encouragement to grow outside the prejudices and assumptions that a small town can label you with. 

Even though, as a man, he is still only 'Mary's son' to the locals; being Mary's (and Joseph's) son seems to have taught him all he needed to know - but it couldn't have been easy. 

The woman lifts her veil and settles it over her head trying to make a deeper shadow across her face; shelter from the unforgiving afternoon sun. Not the best time to be collecting water from the communal well- but then the sun was not the only unforgiving thing in this village.

The clay pot is now full, but rather than make her way home she stands with arms clasped around it; cradling its coolness to her as she watches and waits. Across the square, a man stands at a doorway; his shoulders set with a determination that she recognises; by his side a young boy doing his best to stand equally as tall and as still. At the door the silhouette of another man; she sees him shake his head; lowers her eyes and shakes her own.

'I have no argument with you, Joseph, but the other families will not accept him being taught with their sons.' the Rabbi gestured to the young boys already sitting within the cool room.

'Then your argument is with me, Teacher, because my son is now five years old and under the Law should be studying scripture. I am only asking you to do your duty.'

The Rabbi considers the man and boy standing in front of him. He remembers Joseph as a young and thoughtful student and feels regret for the life that he has chosen but also admiration for his loyalty and dedication.

'We both understand 'duty' in our own way, Joseph. I will do what I can. He can sit in the doorway, to keep the dogs and goats from joining us; whatever he learns, he learns. That's all I can offer.'

Joseph recognises the gift; 'Thank you Rabbi; just as well he has good ears.' He puts his head down to the boy's ear. 'Listen well, little man.' Then gently pushes him towards the threshold, turns and walks towards across the square.

As he passes the well; the woman lifts the clay pot onto her head and falls into step behind him.
'This is not right', she murmers under her breath, 'why should he have to go through this?'

Joseph answered 'If he is going to change the world then he has to see the world for what it is. He will meet people far less sympathetic than our Rabbi, far more judgemental than our village - he needs the skills, the knowledge, he needs to know the Law and what we have done to the Law. Even this day is a victory for him, for us. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't believed in him.'

'You are a wise man, husband.' Mary commented. They both laughed and Joseph lifted the pot from her head and carried it the rest of the way to their home. After all, at this time of the day, there was no-one to see.

Just before supper, the boy flung the door curtain aside and stormed into the house. His mother looked up and saw the vertical frownline in the forehead, round eyes close to tears and the clenched hands; she said a blessing under her breath. He walked through to the workshop at the back of the house without a word. At the worktable he picked up a chisel and started gouging pieces out of a length of wood. Joseph called to him from his seat in the corner near the fire. 'How did it go today?'

Jesus dropped the chisel and walked across to stand at his father's knee; arms held strapped to his side.
'They asked me what the Seventh Commandment was,' he muttered 'I knew the answer - thou shalt not commit adultery. And they laughed - the Rabbi said 'at least I knew the Law' but I don't understand what he meant.'

'But it made you angry? Angry enough to take it out on that poor piece of wood?'

The words burst out; 'it wasn't fair; why would they laugh at me? They don't even know me. And there was another boy who came and sat at the doorway. His name was Eli; they wouldn't let him in because his father is a tax collector. They made fun of him too but he said he never shows that he is upset; that that gave them power over him and they have no right. I am going to try to be like Eli but I didn't like them making fun of me and you and mama. Saying we weren't a real family. That's not true; we are a real family.'

Joseph drew his son to him. 'We are a real family. Families aren't decided by rules. Family are made by love and belonging. I cannot imagine being without you and your mother; you know that you will always have the two of us and the tone in your mother's voice when she calls us in for supper tells the both of us that we belong to her. Love holds us together, Jesus, not blood, not tradition, not the Law, just Love. Remember that.'

On cue, his mother's voice was heard calling them to the table. Jesus laughed and his arms went around his father's neck. 'After supper will you tell me the story about when the angels came?'

'Of course I will,' Joseph replied ' I think it's the perfect night for that particular tale.' He lifted the boy onto his shoulders. 'But first you go and tell your mother you love her.'


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