First Sunday after Epiphany
Feast of the Holy Family – 2017
The Gospel. Luke 2. 41.
Now the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem, after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey : and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed ; and his mother said unto him : Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them ; How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and became subject unto them : but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man.
Welcome to the Epiphany season! Can you feel the excitement? The anticipation? The thrill of the season? Anyone still confused about what the Epiphany means? We all know about the three major dates on the Church’s Kalendar; Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, and we know (I hope) what each one of them means. The Epiphany; maybe not so much.
For those who weren’t here for Mass this past Friday, Epiphany is also known as the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. More specifically, we commemorate, at this time, the Revelation of God through His Only Begotten Son. It is at this time that we are reminded that Jesus Christ came to bring Salvation to the entire world; and not just to the people of Israel. It is also at this time that we are told, clearly and completely, just who Jesus is.
Now you might not think that this is of any particular importance. After all, we all know who Jesus is, don’t we? Son of God; the Messiah; Prince of Peace; Lord of Lords. Pretty simple stuff, isn’t it? What if I told you that it’s not that simple after all? You see, there is still doubt and confusion in the minds of any number of people; people who not only question that Jesus is the Son of God, but also that he ever claimed to be. The Scripture lessons of the Epiphany season give us the tools we need to fight against these misconceptions; to erase doubt and confusion.
Today’s Gospel is one such an example; and ironically, some of those who doubt, use this particular passage from St. Luke’s Gospel to question Our Lord’s Divine nature; “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man”.
Now let me get this straight; he increased in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man? Wait a minute; if, as the Church claims, Jesus is God, has always been God, indeed was pre-existent with God, then how could he increase in wisdom, stature and favor with God? Wouldn’t he already have all the wisdom that God possesses? And how could his stature increase? Why would he need favor with God if he is God? These are questions that we all have to be ready to answer. Here’s how I would answer.
First of all, even at twelve years old, Jesus knew very well who he was. He obviously had more confidence, more wisdom, more knowledge than the average twelve year old. It is apparent that he gave no thought at all to the question of remaining behind in Jerusalem when his parents had departed for home with the rest of their traveling party. I know that if I had disappeared like that for three days when I was twelve years old, I’d likely still be grounded.
But when Joseph and Mary hasten back to Jerusalem and find the young Jesus in the Temple he asks them; “didn’t you know that I would be doing my Father’s business”? Now he’s obviously not talking about the carpentry business of his surrogate father, St. Joseph. No, he’s in the Temple with the teachers; asking them questions and answering theirs with an authority that was out of proportion with the level of his human experience and age. When Jesus refers to “my Father”, he’s talking about God. He knows that he is the Son of God.
Second, and probably more difficult to explain, is the reference to his increasing in wisdom, stature and favor. Since God is already omnipotent, how then, could God increase? Well, this is where Scripture gives us a very human view of how God set the pace and timing of His Revelation.
Of course Jesus was born with all the wisdom, stature and favor that he would ever need. But there was a reason why God decided to begin His ultimate Manifestation of Himself as an infant. Who here doubts that God could have come to earth as a full grown man if he’d wanted to? No, instead, God, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, is born as an infant; he goes through childhood, puberty, the teenage years; he grows, just like any other human being.
But the world is not ready for Him; at least, not immediately. For a full grown man to suddenly appear and say, “Hi, Son of God here”, it would have been too much of a shock to the system, and the people would have rejected him out of hand. So instead God gradually inserts Himself into humanity in such a way as to mitigate the shock. His entrance is unobtrusive, humble, perhaps even “normal”, if we set aside for a moment that whole thing about stars and Angels and eastern kings and shepherds and such.
But, of course, we cannot ignore those things; and likewise we know that there were others who immediately recognized that there was something special about this newly born child. The Magi were the first, traveling from the East, following a star, to find the newborn King. Next would be a man named Simeon who, upon seeing the infant Jesus in the Temple, proclaimed that he was ready to depart this life, now that he had seen the Christ.
But for the most part, the world was not ready; and God knew it. He knew that humanity was not ready to truly comprehend the idea of a God who would take on human form. They were not ready to conceive of a God who would come to earth in anything less than a “royal” form (or at least what humanity perceived as being “royal”).
They certainly weren’t ready for a God who would speak to them in their own language; the language of a humble servant; the language of someone who shared in their experiences, who knew their struggles, and could share in their travails. They did not expect a God who could be Divine, and at the same time be one of them. In spite of what their own Scriptures told them, they did not expect “Emmanuel”, “God with us”. So God had to speak to them, and to us, gradually in terms that we could relate to and therefore hope to understand.
And so, Jesus grew, even though he has always existed. He learns, even though he already knows. He acquired status and favor, even though he is God. The world, humanity, in its limited understanding of things, knows of only one way to describe this process.
And so, from the point of view of the Gospel writers, Jesus increases in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man. It is a human description of how God set the time and pace for His revelation; in order for us to better understand. It is a human description of what the Manifestation of God should mean to us.
And so, Jesus grows, so that we may grow. He learns, so that we may learn. He increases in wisdom, stature and favor with God, so that we may do likewise; at a pace that we can handle.
There are other proofs of Jesus identity in the lessons of Epiphany, and I encourage you to go back and read them all. Matthew’s Gospel tells us about Jesus baptism, when God speaks from heaven and says, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17); Mark’s Gospel depicts Jesus Transfiguration when God again speaks; “this is my beloved Son; hear him” (Mark 9:7). But the key here is not just the fact that the proof exists, but that is was definitively revealed to us.
That’s what Epiphany is about. And as Christians, I think that it’s something that we all too often take for granted. Think about that for a moment. GOD revealed himself to us. He manifested himself in human form and in a deliberate manner so that we could know Him. Do we understand how wonderful that is? How often do we remind ourselves of this over the course of the year? How often do we tell others?
We have just completed the Christmas season during which we celebrated the birth of Our Lord. In a few weeks, we will begin the Lenten season, where we prepare for Jesus Passion, Death and Glorious Resurrection on Easter Day. After that will come the feast of Pentecost, the celebration of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to act in our lives; to guide, strengthen and inspire us.
But before all that, Epiphany give us the opportunity to reflect on the very fact that God saw fit to reveal himself to us; to take on our human form so that He could communicate with us in a way that we might be able to understand; and finally to offer himself as a perfect and Holy Sacrifice, so that we could have a way out of sin. The Epiphany season gives us the opportunity to thank and praise God solely for His Manifestation to the world through His Only Begotten Son.
“Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? “