1 Samuel 2:18-20; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
“He has a profound, profound faith. All were moved by the depth of his faith that God’s hand had a part in this.”
Ruben Garcia of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, was speaking to reporters about Nery Caal Cuz, the 29-year-old father of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin. Jakelin died while in the custody of the United States Border Patrol shortly after crossing into the United States with her dad. They made the journey from Guatemala. Her grandfather said that the little girl was excited to be migrating. Vox reported, “She was going from a life where her family of seven survived on $5 a day – and where she’d never owned a toy or a pair of shoes – to one where she hoped she’d learn to read and write, and, eventually, join her father in making money to send to their family back home.”
“My wife called me crying out of happiness (because) she’s going to see her son for the last time!” says Ali. Ali Hassan is the 22-year-old father of 2-year-old Abdullah. Abdullah is terminally ill and on life support. His mother is in Yemen, twice denied a visa to travel to the United States. Public pressure brought a reversal and Abdullah’s mom is on her way to say goodbye to her little boy.
“If you are a mother you can imagine it … you cannot feed your children … it’s about the children of Hodeidah,” the doctor with Save the Children tells the reporter from the BBC regarding the cease-fire in Yemen. “Imagine you are a mother.” She adds, “If you are a mother you can understand.”
“I should’ve left, and I didn’t because if I would’ve left, my son would not have the things that he needs,” Jazmine Headley said. The New York Times reported that Jazmine was arrested, her toddler torn from her arms, after refusing to comply when told she could not sit on the floor of the public assistance office.
Both the Old Testament and New Testament readings this Sunday after Christmas revolve around families, parents seeking to be faithful to God and responsible to and for their children. Hannah and Elkanah go yearly to visit their son, Samuel, the child Hannah promised to give to God if God granted her fervent prayer to be a mother. The priest Eli blesses the faithful couple. Hannah brings Samuel a new little robe she’s made, year after year.
Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple, making the journey to Jerusalem for Passover, as they do every year. They assume their son is with their group of pilgrims traveling home, only to make the panicked discovery that he is no where to be found. Their faithfulness has nurtured their son’s faith, exceeding anything they could have expected, despite angelic announcements, magi visitations and prophetic shepherds. Jesus, the Son of God, is also Mary and Joseph’s very earthly little boy, about whom they worry.
Good parents do everything in their power to provide for their children. They offer prayers to God, go to the temple, sew robes, pay smugglers, seek food and water, wait for hours in a government office to get benefits, travel miles and miles to do what they think is right by the ones entrusted to their care. Many rely on the promise of God to journey with them even when the journey brings moments of panic or turns of tragedy.
When I read this story from Luke about the 12-year-old Jesus separated from his parents, I imagine it as a mother. I can understand the terror at realizing my child cannot be found, is not where he is supposed to be, has been left unattended. I think of his vulnerability. I imagine the worst. I resonate with both Mary’s relief and rebuke.
When I read about Hannah visiting her son once a year, bringing him a new robe, I imagine her cutting the cloth, praying for her little boy as she sews, hoping he is well, trusting God to protect him. I imagine how much she misses him and longs to be with him, to see him grow, kiss him goodnight.
When I read about Nery, Shaima and Jazmine, in the words of the New York’s social services commissioner who viewed the video of Jazmine’s arrest, “I could only see my children in that situation, and it’s just heartbreaking.”
Hannah and Elkanah, Mary and Joseph, Nery Caal Cuz, Ali Hassan and Shaima Swileh, Jazmine Headley, separated by centuries, geography, language and culture, are united in their love for their children and their hopes for their futures. On this first Sunday after Christmas, our focus should be on Hannah and Elkanah and Mary and Joseph, so that we see God’s concern for the Cuz family, the Hassan family, the Headley family, all families and all children. We should imagine that we are Hannah and Mary, Nery and Ali, Jazmine and Joseph.
Picture the little robe. Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. Consider what it feels like to be Nery. Feel the pain of Shaima. Ponder the stress of Jazmine. Think about the horror of the mothers of Yemen as they struggle to save their children from starvation. The Incarnation assumes and includes all humanity. Jesus comes to save the world. Mary’s son, God’s son, the One who teaches with authority and not only knows, but is the Word of the Lord, who astounds the elders, and perplexes the Pharisees, is the Good News of great joy for ALL people. All families. All children.
God knows each step of every journey of each child who treks across the desert in hopes of a better life and every parent fervently working for their safety and well-being. Nery Caal Cuz’ faith is not unfounded, even if I am sure it must be sorely tested. Like Samuel and Jesus, God’s desire is for each child is to grow in wisdom and stature, surrounded by a community that cares for them, people of faith who pray for them, families who nurture them, mentors who guide them, a world that values them.
Will Willimon in his book, “Proclamation and Theology,”asks the question, “How would God have me to change in order to make this text believable?” If Jesus came to save the world, his incarnation leaving no person or part of humanity behind, if his teachings are authoritative, if his life is a model for our own, how would God have us change in order to make these truths believable? If God counts the hairs on the heads of Hannah’s son and Nery’s daughter, how would God have us change in order to make this promise believable? If we are God’s chosen ones, clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and – most of all – love, how would God have us to change in order to make this text believable? Every disciple of Jesus Christ is called not just to imagine the answers to these questions, but prayerfully seek to live them.
- Imagine it. Use lectio divinawith each of the texts appointed for this week. What do you learn as a result of that prayerful reading of Scripture?
- What rituals of faith do you and your family participate in regularly? How have they formed you and your family?
- The Luke text tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.” What things? What does it mean to treasure something in your heart? What things do you treasure in your heart?
- Looking at the text from Colossians for this week, which characteristic do you need to cultivate in the coming year? Choose one to practice throughout the week and maybe even throughout the year.
- How would God have you to change to make any of these texts believable?
- Have you ever experienced the panic of Mary and Joseph about someone you love? Did you experience God’s presence during that season of fear?
Want to receive Looking into the Lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Click here to join our email list!