July 26

Sts. Joachim and Anna
Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

By the middle of the second century CE, the gospels had been published and widely circulated in Christian circles. But this fact did not quench the thirst of the faithful to know more about Jesus and his mother, Mary. So, other "gospels" appeared to "fill in the cracks," so to speak. One of the most popular of these apocalyptic gospels was the "Protoevangelium of James" ("protoevangelium" means "first gospel"). In this text, we learn the back story of Mary and her parents, Joachim and Anna. While the Church never accepted this short text as canonical, it greatly influenced popular piety throughout the centuries, even to the present day. Two liturgical memorials attest to its staying power, today's celebration and the Birth of Mary (September 8).

The Protoevangelium of James presented Mary's parents as an ideal couple with a perfect piety. The writing not only gave details about their lives, it gave readers a portrait to be emulated.

First Reading: Sirach 44:1, 10-15 (WEB)

1 Let us now praise famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.
10 But these were men of mercy,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.
11 A good inheritance remains with their offspring.
Their children are within the covenant.
12 Their offspring stand fast,
with their children, for their sakes.
13 Their offspring will remain forever.
Their glory won't be blotted out.
14 Their bodies were buried in peace.
Their name lives to all generations.
15 People will declare their wisdom.
The congregation proclaims their praise.

In the early part of the second century BCE, one Ben Sira composed a book of wisdom sayings. It was translated from its original Hebrew into Greek by the author's grandson in the later part of the century. Thus, it was incorporated into a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint.

Chapters 44-50 praised the heroes of Israel. The passage above acted as its prologue. The book remembered these figures not for their heroic deeds or their wisdom or their wealth and power. Instead, it recounted them for their mercy. That virtue stood the clans of these people for generations. It insured their reputation and their peace of mind, even into the afterlife. Because they treated others with compassion, their memory would be honored by the congregation long after they were gone.

Top of the page

Gospel: Matthew 13:16-17

Jesus said to his disciples:

16 Fortunate are your eyes that see and your ears that hear. 17 For amen I say to you, many prophets and righteous (people) yearned to see what (you) see and did not see (it) and hear what you hear and did not hear (it).

Many scholars call Matthew 13 the Parable Discourse simply because it contained several parables grouped together. In the chapter, Jesus explained two of these extended metaphors to his disciples while leaving the general populace puzzled by their meaning. He prefaced one of these explanations (the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Mt 13:18-23) with the beatitude above. He taught his followers the secrets of the Kingdom, a wisdom their ancestors longed to witness. Note the two verbs "see" and "hear" meant more than learning some esoteric knowledge. The disciples saw what Jesus did as well as heard what he had to say. In other words, they were blessed for witnessing the Nazarene in action. They understood in practical terms what the Good News really meant.

The theme of today's readings spoke to the life of the righteous and the longing they have to witness God act in their lives. Sometimes we are blessed to realize both, like Joachim and Anna were portrayed in the Protoevangelium.