Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily for Holy Family Sunday 2010


Holy Family A – 12/26/10
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14, Psalm 128:1-5, Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Complete Biblical Texts

Not long ago there was an article in the New York Times about some Jews who are washing the bodies of dead loved ones. The restoration of this ancient religious law has motivated Jewish volunteers to learn the “rituals of bathing, dressing, watching over the dead bodies of neighbors and friends.” [1] One rabbi said, we visit the sick and comfort the bereaved; now we care for the deceased as well. Very few of us in the Christian tradition have been known to carry out this beautiful, tender act.

The first reading this morning is from Sirach, a book of wisdom. It can be an incentive to be considerate of and to take care of our parents; a commentary on the fourth commandment. Anyone who knows what it is like to have a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, another illness or old age can identify with this passage.

The second reading, a primitive catechism, lists those virtues that are required of us when caring for others — compassion and humility, gentleness and patience. The text says we clothe ourselves in these Christ like attributes. (This could be a reference to a newly baptized person who, rising up from the font of water, puts on a new Easter garment.) The expression “fearing God” in the psalm is a reminder not to boast about what we do. Rather, those who care for others are like a fruitful vine bearing the joys of life.

Caring for one another is not always easy. It is an interruption in our routine and it can be emotionally and physically messy. When someone in our family becomes sick and requires our immediate or long term care we are obliged to respond no matter how inconvenient it may be. When others are hungry and homeless, abused and dishonored, we come to their rescue as members of a holy family.

The story in the gospel is an intriguing one about avoiding danger; about caring for someone’s welfare. It is not just about how the family of Joseph and Mary sidestepped the murderous Archelaus, the son of the infamous Herod.  Rather, it places Jesus in the long history of Israel. [2]  Instead of returning to Judea Jesus’ family headed north to Nazareth in Galilee.

The word Nazareth is key in understanding why this happened. It means “shoot” in Hebrew and is a reference to the life that grew out of the stump in the wilderness. [3] Jesus, for Christians, is considered the flower that blossomed from the tree of Jesse. By going to Nazareth, scholar John Pilch says, the parents of Jesus “directed him toward his destiny.” [4]

The concern that Mary and Joseph had for the safety of their children is an example of how out of our way we go for the sake of others; to help them reach their destiny. Like the poor refugee family, Joseph, Mary and their children, “millions of families around the world still flee for their lives and suffer the wrath of their governments.” [5]

Tenderly caring for destitute strangers and familiar loved ones is a human thing to do. Bathing a dead person, like some Jewish women are learning to do, takes us to another level of care. It is a beautiful example of how much we are connected with one another in life and in death. This seasonal story of the Holy Family is not just an adventurous tale about escaping death. Rather, it reminds us about the cost of caring for one another.


1 Vitello, Paul. “Reviving a Ritual of Tending to the Dead.” New York Times, 12/13/10

2 Fuller, Reginald H and Westberg, Daniel. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 2006 (Third Edition), pp. 25-26

3 Fuller and Westberg. Ibid.

4 Pilch, John J.. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1995. pp. 13-15.

5 Pax Christi USA. 2010 Christmas message


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

2 thoughts on “Homily for Holy Family Sunday 2010

  1. For many years I worked as a nursing supervisor in geriatrics. Death was a frequent, and not necessarily unwelcome visitor to our residents. I never really shared this with much before, but listening to your words about the Jewish ritual care (and reading the NYTimes article) took me back to those days, and our own ritual known as “post mortum” care. Giving “PM” care was one of the parts of my job I really treasured. Spending time, in the deep quiet after death, I felt honored to be able to prepare the body – the vessel that held the spirit and energy of the person. Thank you for your words.


  2. I once read something where the preparation of Jesus’ body after crucifixion and before entombment was being described. It was so beautifully written that the memory of this loving act has stayed so much on my heart. I am grateful to recall it in the midst of Christmas as well, ever the reminder of birth and death as well as the very tender, intimate and primal act of caring that it is.


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