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Who Were Christ’s Grandparents?

July 26, 2016


The Scriptures tell us everything that we need to know about the Lord Jesus that is necessary for our salvation.  In other words, we know what is true and essential about Christ from what he has revealed and inspired the authors of the Sacred Scriptures to relate to us through the mediation of their writings. This should be enough, but we also know that it isn’t everything.  At its conclusion, the Gospel of John advises us that there is so much more that could be told about Christ that all the books in the world would not suffice to contain his story. This being said, we are obligated by faith to accept what we have as sufficient. This assent is readily given, but inasmuch as we love the Lord Jesus, we want to know more than what he permits.

Are we not filled with questions about him that on this side of heaven just cannot be answered?  Did the Christ child fear the dark?  Did adolescence make him clumsy, and did he awaken one morning to acne on his face?  What were the games he favored in his childhood and the names of the children he played with?  What was it like in his home in Nazareth?  One day, perhaps, Christ will tell us the answers.  But given what he allows us to know, it seems that he begs us not to linger in such questions right now.  We are, instead, to mark and remember what he has revealed to us and set ourselves about our mission. Yet the temptation to speculate and to wonder is almost irresistible.  Some in the early Church (and even today) created a whole genre of literature that purported to reveal the details from the life of Christ that he has hidden from us.  In regard to these stories, the Church is clear that none of them, no matter how well crafted, are to be accepted or esteemed as revelation.

Today the Church celebrates two saints of Christ’s hidden life- people who, next to his Mother and her husband, knew Christ with an intimacy that would have been privileged and unique among all those who knew him during his earthly sojourn.  These two saints are named by the Church as Joachim and Anne; they are the parents of Christ’s Blessed Mother and as such, his grandparents. The scriptures are utterly silent about these two –their names are passed down to us, not in the pages of the revelatory texts, but through pious custom.  Their role in Christ’s life?  We can only guess.  What we do know is that Christ must have had grandparents, and if the role that most grandparents play in our lives is any indication, their impact on him was likely quite profound. 

Perhaps they were part of a nexus of relatives that nurtured him and helped him to negotiate and understand the world.  Did he help his grandfather up from his bed and lead him to sit in the cool shade of a tree?  Did he soothe his grandmothers gnarled and calloused hands?  Did he beg from them stories about the old days or for tales about his mother when she was just a little girl?  Maybe their deaths were the first deaths that touched him deeply.  Was it in their aged faces that he saw how brief, fragile, and wonderful life in this world really is?  Did he ask of them their thoughts about God?  Did they know his secret?

I am often taken by how quickly the mystery of the Incarnation can be emptied of its true content and dulled in its impact.  As children, the tale of Christ’s Holy Birth can hold us enrapt at attention.  But since it is a story that we identify as familiar, it can wrongly be thought of as just one more of many seasonal tales. This perception on our part is a grave mistake because the Incarnation is not just a story, it is the story- a story that describes the most surprising and uncanny event that has ever or will ever happen.  God accepted for himself a human nature and lived a real human life.  This means that he accepted, not just a human nature in the abstract, but as it is embedded in the real circumstances of this world. God chose a family for himself.  He submitted himself to having to learn about life in the context of a particular culture at a particular time and place.  Because the human nature he chose was real, God in Christ called two people his grandmother and grandfather- and since they were the parents of his Blessed Mother, we can surmise from the manner that she loved him that they also loved him more than anything they had ever loved before.

The identities and personal stories of Christ’s grandparents have disappeared under the radar of history.  Their names are known to us only because they have been distilled through a long genealogy of custom that the Church has deemed credible for our belief.  We know Christ’s grandparents as the mysterious Joachim and Anna, and though we know next to nothing about them, we do know that they knew Christ in ways that we can never know.  One day, perhaps they will tell us, and on that day, we will know.