Joachim, Anna and other grandparents
Jesus was a real man and had ancestors.
Who are they?
According to ancient tradition, Mary’s parents were named Joachim and Anna. We find these names in the Protoevangelium according to James, which was written about 150 AD and was not included in the canon of Holy Scripture. Whether the “grandparents” of Jesus were named this way cannot be said with certainty. It may well be that a knowledge of this has been preserved among the early Christians. One thing we know for sure: Jesus was a real man and had ancestors. And when it is said of Jesus that he “advanced (in) wisdom and age and favour before God and man.” (Luke 2,52), then part of the mystery of Jesus is that he learned from the people of his clan how to get along in the world – how to eat, speak, sing, pray, plant, harvest, handle tools, clean a house. Jesus grew up in a world where old people’s homes did not yet exist and the old and wise were integrated into the extended family. They had time, tended the hearth fire, and often the grandchildren sat at their feet, listening to their stories and growing into the tradition of their people through oral tradition. The names Joachim and Anna have beautiful meanings. Joachim in Hebrew means: God straightens up. And Anna: the graced one. The veneration of St. Anna increased continuously since the early Middle Ages. Well known are the representations of the so-called “Anna Selbdritt”: the child Jesus, together with a young woman (= Mary) and an old woman (= Anna).
What does the Holy Bible say?
The Holy Scripture itself reports nothing about the parents of Mary. But in YOUCAT 86 it says: “That God in Jesus wanted to be born into a human family and by growing up in it made the family a place of God and an archetype of a helping community.”
A short YOUCAT-Catechesis
Praise for the grandparents
We would love to know what life was like in the household of Mary and Joseph. Unfortunately, there are no videos, no selfies, not even a trace of a report. But we can well imagine that Joseph, a small building contractor, left the house in the morning to earn his money in Sepphoris, five kilometres away. While Nazareth was a sleepy town at that time, Sepphoris was a hive of activity. Sepphoris was the “ornament of Galilee”, a Roman-Hellenistic city in the process of development and expansion with ambitious building projects in which every hand was needed.
Mary was certainly not an underemployed housewife who painted her fingernails. People had fields, kept livestock, slaughtered, cooked, wove, sewed, mended, cleaned. A job that kept a young woman busy around the clock. Child-rearing at that time and in those cultures was often the responsibility of grandparents and unmarried members of the extended family. People lived close to each other. “To raise children,” goes an African proverb, “it takes a whole village!”
Babushka – or the power of memory
It probably happened to Jesus, as it happened to his mother, as it happened to all the children of that culture. The children of Israel learned the crucial things about God and the longing for the Messiah from the ancients. They heard this reminder, like a monotonous drumbeat of trust through the ages, “His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him” (LK 1,50). Yesterday it was so, today it is so, tomorrow it will be so. Thus, they whispered it from generation to generation – the experienced, life-wise grey heads. This hymn of divine mercy had become flesh and blood to Mary. It did not burst out of her unprepared when she – mysteriously pregnant – visited her cousin. The adolescent village girl almost flipped out with joy: “(Hey guys!) “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed (me? … me!!!).” (Luke 1, 46-48)
After the collapse of the Soviet Empire, after 70 years of atheistic indoctrination, after hundreds of thousands of destroyed churches and millions of burned Bibles, it turned out that still, 75% of people in Russia believed in God. What was the reason? Who had kept alive the memory of God and God’s mercy? It was not the prudent, and wise. It was the old, the “babushkas” – the despised grandmothers, women from the lowest social class, women who had often only had three years of schooling, who had been used up as tractor drivers in the fields, who hardly received a pension. These women had lit candles during all those bitter years, had fasted, prayed, followed the ancient rituals – and had kept the children in their hats while the parents served the socialist construction.
Have we not given you everything?
Once again, everything is at stake. All over the world peoples and cultures are overrun by ever new waves of atheism. In the media, people who build their lives on God and try to follow his commandments only appear on the margins – as dangerous fundamentalists or exotic weirdos. Who initiates the children into the most important secrets of life? Who gives them an answer to the question of all questions: “What are we on earth for?” (YOUCAT 1). Who tells them, “We are on earth to know and love God, to do good according to His will, and to go to heaven one day.”? Who else teaches to them: “To be human is to come from God and go to God. We come from further away than our parents. We come from God, in whom all the happiness of heaven and earth is at home, and we are awaited in His eternal, boundless bliss. In between, we live on this earth.” (YOUCAT 1)?
Parents today are hopelessly overburdened in many ways. In many countries, it is no longer possible to support a family on one income. Both parents have to work – and when they come home in the evening, there is the household and the laundry to do, the thousand little problems of everyday life. At the end of the day, exhausted, father and mother surrender to some media stimulation. There is hardly any time left for the children, their needs and existential questions. In addition, families are also becoming desolate in terms of communication and spirituality. The parental homes are often empty before they empty out because the children flee from the dreariness there, the cold and the speechlessness.
One day the children will stand before these parents – empty of soul, ignorant of finding the true life, illiterate of faith. And only the stupid parents will ask them, “Didn’t we give you everything?” Yes, they may have given a lot. Slaved like animals – for the house, the car, the vacation, the children’s education, getting ahead, often for sheer survival. Something fell by the wayside. The crucial thing. “Just as one candle is lit by the flame of another, so faith is kindled by faith.” (Romano Guardini) There was nothing burning. Nothing could burn…
An age for grandparents
In other words, a new age has come for grandparents. Perhaps they are needed as never before. What do grandparents have that parents don’t? The difference is the time factor. On the one hand, grandparents have the time that the children’s parents lack. And more important than the garden, more important than the hobby, more important than the occupational therapy with the name of free time are the grandchildren. They are God’s beloved children! Children who need loving people, people who accept them, people who have an ear, people who are simply there. Grandparents with grandchildren must undergo a special examination of conscience today: Did I see? Was I there? Or did I look away? Did I make a run for it?
And the time factor plays a role for older people in yet another way: They don’t have much of it left. The end of their life is approaching. One can mourn this or play it over. But one can also become wise and godly – and very, very useful for the children and grandchildren. Indeed, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit often come to us human children in the last quarter of our earthly life: “wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.” These are “certain powers” that make us “special instruments of God in this world.” (YOUCAT 310). Tools for grandparents. Wonderfully suited for grandchildren.
Discover our digital products, which will help you to grow in faith and become missionaries yourself.