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Reflections on the Sunday readings

Mary, Joseph and Jesus see a therapist

It took only one week in the church year for Jesus to jump from a baby in a manger to a twelve-year-old adolescent boy, asserting himself. One wonders what happened next. If the story were happening today, one can picture Mary going home and immediately calling her therapist for a family session. The hour would begin with Mary, who would say that Jesus just needed to learn to communicate, that was all she was asking. Perhaps Joseph, trying to keep the peace, would mutter something about wanting the family to work it out. Then Jesus, sitting quietly, would say nothing. After the therapist would coax him to give his view, reassuring him that of course it mattered, Jesus might reiterate his position that it was necessary for him to be about his father’s work. No apologies: it was something he had to do.
Well now the therapist is in a difficult spot. She has the mother looking for communication and that’s a good thing, right? But when Jesus doesn’t think so, one does have to stop and wonder, what is really happening here? What is Jesus objecting to? It seems to me that Jesus knew that more was at stake than communication. That if he had told his mother he was staying in Jerusalem, he would have been told he was not staying, that he must cooperate with the group and go home that day. And this is what Jesus would not do. Somehow, he knew his work that day was in Jerusalem, knew that he was supposed to stay, and knew that he would follow his own path.
In my experience, people often claim they want better communication when what they really want is to get their own way. And to take it further, often when a person says he or she needs to talk, it may be because of indecision, uncertainty about what he or she should do, and the hope that another will take on the responsibility for oneself. It is odd how communication can become an excuse for a failure to be clear about oneself, or alternatively to push another to do something that is not his or her own goal (albeit with its own risks), but a bowing to the pressures of the group.
Returning to our hapless therapist, who surely by now is wishing she had chosen another line of work, perhaps if she had explored Jesus’ comment about his “father’s” work, the conversation might have led into a broader discussion of the family’s history and purpose. Perhaps in the original story, that conversation is exactly what happened as Jesus, Mary and Joseph walked home from Jerusalem together.
Perhaps each of us could benefit from less time blaming others and more attention to one’s own purpose. Perhaps the risk of eschewing the comfort and safety of togetherness is the price to be paid for faithfulness to one’s goals. It is an odd message at the holiday season, when most of us try to connect with family. But perhaps this is precisely the point. The message of the reading suggests connecting with family in a way that supports each person’s separate self.
For pondering: When have I let others keep me from my purpose and goals in life? On the other hand, when have I pressured others to conform to the group? How do I live in freedom and support the freedom of others, while staying connected to them?
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