"He went down with them and came to Nazareth; and was subject to them."
There is a common thread that connects several of the Gospels that are read during the Christmas season. That is to say that very often these Gospels treat of the theme of obedience. And, more than just obedience, the theme seems to be obedience to legitimate authority in doing things that aren't even particularly necessary.
For example, last Wednesday and Sunday we read a Gospel that tells us that Jesus' parents brought Him to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. Now this ritual was essentially a sign of the union of the Jewish people with God. It was certainly unnecessary for Jesus Christ, the God-man, to demonstrate unity with Himself.
On February 2nd, we will celebrate a feast known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. This recalls another prescription of the Old Law, in which a woman was considered to be "unclean" by virtue of childbirth, and requiring a ritual of purification forty days after. Here again, the Virgin Mother of God was in no way "unclean," but yet she submitted herself to the prescriptions of legitimate authority.
Likewise, in today's Gospel, we read of Jesus "being subject to them"; the "them," of course, being Mary and Joseph, His earthly parents. He is subject to them and their legitimate authority even though as God the Son of God, He was perfectly capable of handling His own affairs.
We can explain this obedience, first of all, as good example for all of us who would later come to read the Gospels. Hopefully, by the example of the Holy Family, we will be inspired to display the proper spirit of obedience in our own lives. Our Lord knew well that the best training we can receive for obeying the will of God is to freely obey our earthly superiors.
Perhaps even more fundamentally, each member of the Holy Family, including Jesus Himself, understood that they were under actual obligations of obedience; that these commands of those in authority were lawful and legitimate; and, therefore, binding upon them even if they commanded unnecessary things. The notion of obedience to legitimate authority was real to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; just as it should be to us.
Note that all of these examples, and any others we can find in the Gospels, demonstrate obedience by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to the lawful commands of legitimate authority. The commands may concern things not actually necessary for any of the members of the Holy Family, but the commands are nonetheless lawful. And it is important to understand that even legitimate authority must be resisted when it commands something that violates the just laws of men or the divine law of God. For example, Joseph and Mary did not hand Jesus over to King Herod's soldiers, even though Herod was their legitimate superior as king.
Our Lord remained at Jerusalem, teaching in the temple for 3 days, even though He knew that Mary and Joseph would probably have disapproved if He had asked permission. In Jerusalem He was carrying out the higher law of His heavenly Father in beginning His mission of salvation of souls. This higher law had to be obeyed, even if it appeared to be in conflict with the wishes of His lower superiors, Mary and Joseph.
In modern times, both sets of examples are important for us. A certain spirit of independence moves many of us to reject all authority; that of the Church, and the state, as well as the family. But yet, at the same time, a spirit of indifference moves many others to accept even the most diabolical commands of the government, or the hierarchy, or perhaps a deranged parent, without so much as questioning their lawfulness.
We have an obligation to obey legitimate superiors, even when we consider such obedience unnecessary or distasteful. As Catholics and as citizens we must obey the just laws of Church and state. If we are living in our parents' home, we must obey the just rules of order that they establish for our conduct. And we should do these things with the same spirit demonstrated by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
On the other hand, we must always be open to the possibility that one or more of these legitimate authorities may command something unlawful; something in violation of the just laws of men, or more importantly, something contrary to the will of God. We may never violate the rights of our fellow men; we may never give up our Faith or the means to practice it; no matter who commands such things. Parents, presidents, and even popes lack the authority to command us to do something contrary to God's will. And, here again, we should resist them just as the Holy Family resisted King Herod's murderous command.
Just as Jesus "went down to Nazareth and was subject to them"; and just as He had to "go about doing the will of [His] Father in heaven," -- so also must we bow to our superiors, yet always conforming our wills to that of our ultimate Superior, God the Father in heaven.