There are alternatives for the first reading, This commentary is on Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14. The Wisdom of (ben) Sirach is sometimes called Ecclesiaticus or even the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach; it is what might be called a deutero-canonical book because its status as part of the canon (or official collection) of Scripture was not recognised by Jews resident in Israel; Protestant Bibles follow a shorter collection of the Old Testament; though Sirach was used by Jewish scholars and is included in the early Greek version of the Jewish Bible (the Septuagint) and is in Catholic bibles. A lot of the wisdom in this book is about good relationships within families, society and between people in general. The section we have today is a good illustration of this. The nature of the society from which this came is indicated by the absence of any reference to daughters. We should, however, when we apply this reading to ourselves, include in our thinking all members of families as well as single people.
Another possibly first reading is based on 1 Samuel 1:20-28 (omitting verse 23). This book is classified as a history, but like nearly all interesting history writing and also because it is part of sacred Scripture, its main aim is not to recount mere matter-of-fact details but to say something about us humans and in this case our relationship with God. Its beginning aims to introduce the person of Samuel as a chosen one of God, a dynamic leader during troubled times and a prophetic voice of God to the people. His birth is made to relate to that of Abraham’s son Isaac born to Sarah (when she was too old), and to Manoah’s son, Samson, when his wife was barren but visited by an angel (Judges 13). Hannah, one of the important Elkanah’s wives had a lowly place because she was barren, but prayed to the Lord and became pregnant with Samuel. God can do miraculous deeds! This story so impressed Luke the evangelist that he tells of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus with these stories in mind; and he even has Mary sing a song (the Magnificat) similar to that which Hannah sang (1 Samuel 2) after she became pregnant.
The second reading is from 1 John which is the first of three short letters to Christians in the tradition of John’s Gospel; it seems to be written by one who has an oversight of a number of Christian communities, and that there may have been two groups who interpreted things differently. The writer is trying to encourage faithfulness to the early teaching and to the tradition that goes back to Christ himself. Because people were beginning to express the message of Jesus in terminology not restricted to a Jewish context, there appears some development in the very teaching itself. It seems that the ‘elder’ writing the letter was upbraiding those whom, he thinks, have taken this development too far, though in exactly what way is not clear. But in the section we read today (Chapter 3 verses 1-2, 21-24), the emphasis is on the great confidence that Christians can have as children of God through their relationship with Christ and His Spirit. Since they live with this new life what they ask will be in accord with the will of God and so they can be sure that their prayers will be answered. And if this is fantastic, the future coming of Christ will be even more incomprehensibly wonderful.
The gospel is the story which we call the ‘Finding in the Temple’ ( Lk 2:41-52) is both delightful and surprising. It is grouped within what we generally call the infancy narratives but is about growing up. It moves from Jesus with his parents doing what a devout Jewish family would do, through the account of him amazing the Rabbis in the very heart of their religion, then causing anxiety to Mary and Joseph which highlights their wondering who he is and what his life is about, and then the story is about him claiming God is his father, finishing with Him returning to a life back home to grow and mature further. The passage before our reading ends saying how Jesus grew bodily, intellectually and spiritually; and this may suggest what the passage we read might mean to us and what Luke the ‘church historian’ was trying to tell the early church, for the passage ends with the same notion of his growth. Jesus, practising his religion, travels to the heart of it, listens to and asks questions of its learned teachers, seems lost even to those who love him, but after a spiritually dark period (“three days”) is found and remains to grow further into maturity. Is this not like an outline of the gospel? In Jesus’ life He moves on after baptism, teaching and doing good and gently challenging the way things are; but His message is enigmatic and remote to his followers until after the end of his life when he rises after three days and then has a new presence on earth, in the nascent church, which begins to grow in numbers, in spiritual strength and in favour with God – and is still growing. And for the history of the church, still in our present time, is not this the pattern of its difficult growth towards the completed kingdom of God? And how does this pattern match our own lives and our own development each of us in our own situation?