Summary: We can use the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple to illustrate how the Scripture is best read as a whole, with the New Testament's meaning being fleshed out by its OT references.
Solemnity of St Joseph 2012
The Solemnity of St. Joseph is a very appropriate day to line out some ideas about the Word of God, and interpretation of the Word. We can easily focus on the “unity of the whole of Scripture,” which is the first of the three marks of authentic biblical interpretation. We can focus on this because the genealogy of Jesus Christ, in His human nature, comes through His foster father, Joseph. In fact, the reading today appears to record the finding of Jesus in the Temple, a day when He first began referring in public to God the Father as His unique Father. Joseph had been, until then, a stand-in, the human being who was modeling how to be a man to the God-man, Jesus. About fifteen Nazareth years then elapsed before Jesus was ready to teach the rest of us how to be like God.
The unity of the Scriptures shows up here in our three readings. David, founder of the dynasty of Israelite kings that bears his name, has been an obedient son and servant to God. God promises David, as He had done for Abraham, a long surviving lineage, an eternal reign. We would have to regard these words as mere poetic hyperbole without David’s descendant, Jesus. Jesus would become the king, in the angel Gabriel’s words, whose reign would never end.
This was the second promise. The first promise was made to David’s ancestor, Abraham, the man whom our Mass calls “our father in faith.” Abraham believed he would be the father of Sara’s son, even though both of them were quite old. Then, when the miraculous child was born and came of age, Abraham believed that God would fulfill His promises of a vast multitude of descendants, even when God asked Abraham to slay his son in sacrifice. That takes faith of an uncommon kind. Jesus, seen here in the Temple in what we would call an “interactive” class with the teachers of the Law, was and is the fulfillment of promises to David and Abraham.
So the Gospel text from St. Luke is a writing of sacred truths with an eye to the earlier texts, certainly this one from Samuel, and the Abraham story from Genesis. In another writing, Pope Benedict describes what is happening: Older texts are reappropriated, reinterpreted, and read with new eyes in new contexts. As St. Luke writes the story from the point of view of his faith community, the Holy Spirit works in his mind to help him see how this story fleshes out the meaning of the OT passages the story is based on. So Luke is acting not merely as a storyteller, and a good one, but as a theologian. He is telling us something new about God’s loving action in history by writing with a new understanding about God’s older loving actions.
A one-dimensional view of biblical studies would ask restricted questions, much along the lines of a chemist experimenting with a new substance. Such a student would look at the story of Jesus in the Temple all by itself, as a human family story with no theological meaning. He might conclude that Jesus was a precocious brat who cared nothing about his parents’ feelings of terror and dread when they missed him. Or he might see Joseph identified as Jesus’s father and question Mary’s perpetual virginity. Or he might ask how a 14-year old from a nothing village could even dare to enter a dialogue with scholars who had studied the Law three times longer than he had been alive.