This week we will encounter Jesus twelve years after that first Christmas. Zero to twelve in five days. Wow! That was quick. Brace yourself. Next week, we are going in the “way back machine” and will see Jesus as a baby when the Wise Men come to visit the new born king. But, this week, Jesus is a tween. This story is unique to Luke, and it has something important to tell us if we look at it closely. It is the first time that Jesus speaks in Luke’s gospel. That alone means we should pay particular attention. The truth is that we could easily take a month of Sundays to plunge the depths of this passage. On the surface it can look a lot like the general plot of the movie Home Alone. How many of you are familiar with this popular Christmas movie? For those who are less familiar, here is a quick overview.
“Around Christmastime, a large family is preparing to leave for a vacation in Europe. They plan to get up early in the morning to catch their flight. Unfortunately, during the night the electricity in the neighborhood gets knocked out. Consequently, the alarm clock goes off late. The house breaks into total chaos as the family frantically dresses, packs, loads up, and dashes off to the airport to make their flight.
“Once the plane is in the air, the mother has this haunting feeling that she forgot to do something. Were all the doors locked? Yes. Was newspaper delivery cancelled? Yes. Was the garage closed? [No. That must be it … No, that’s not it.] With an explosion of realization, she cries out “Kevin!” In the rush and jumble of leaving, Kevin—the youngest child in the family—was left behind. The rest of the movie deals with his antics as he copes with being alone and as he foils the efforts of two bungling burglars from robbing his house. Kevin, who began the movie as a little boy who can’t tie his own shoes or pack his suitcase, quickly learns to be independent.” (Craig M. Watts, “What’s a Kid to Do?”, Sermon Options: December30, 2018, MinistryMatters.com, https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/3448/sermon-options-december-27-2015)
We are going to learn that there is a lot more here than a child that was left behind. Our Scripture comes from Luke 2:41-52.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? (or about my Father’s business)” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
As I mentioned earlier, this story is unique to Luke’s gospel. Why did he include this particular story? A Gospel is not a biography. The extent that it looks like a biography is to tell us something important about the Good News of Jesus: 1) to show us something that demonstrates why this person who looks human is somehow God in human form or 2) to teach us something that is important for us to know as disciples. So, we don’t have all the details of Jesus’ life that we might be curious about. Some scholars believe that in Luke’s research that he had an opportunity to interview Mary. The birth narrative is more from her perspective, and we have this story from his childhood. But, why this story, why not something about how he interacted with his brothers and sisters at home? Why not how great he was about washing the dishes and taking out the trash without ever being asked? We can imagine what we think that Jesus’ childhood was like in many many ways, but would they tell us what we need to know. Today’s story tells us some very important things.
If we looked at this Scripture in a very superficial way, it could look like some incompetent parents and a back talking child. No, this is not a sitcom on television. Let’s look deeper, and see what’s going on here.
Where does this narrative occur in the Bible? It is at the end of two very long chapters in Luke that are full of extraordinary events: announcements, angels, and prophetic songs. What do we have here? An almost mundane story about a boy that gets separated from his parents. It is another everyday kind of occurrence that most people can relate to. Were you ever lost as a child? Did you ever lose your child, like say in a grocery or department store, even if it was just for a few minutes? What was your level of panic? How fast did your pulse race?
I was every parent’s worst nightmare in that regard. It wasn’t that I was a particularly difficult child, but I was interested in everything and very friendly. In fact, everyone I saw was my friend. So, that meant that I would wander away and start talking with strangers … all the time. I scared my parents half to death. My parents would come up as I was engaged in a deep conversation with my new best friend. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that the world was not nearly so friendly. I changed. I adapted to my environment, but I miss that person that was so free. I was a bit younger than Jesus in this story, but I can relate to Jesus wandering off and his parents finding him in discussion with these people about his favorite topic, God and God’s law.
That leads to a very important point. This demonstrates Jesus’ humanity. Everything up to this point served to prove that this baby born of Mary was the divine, Son of God. Now, we are seeing his true humanity as well, not just any human to be sure, but human. On Tuesday, I mentioned that God made flesh, God in human form, did not materialize as a full grown human to meet with world leaders. God could have done it that way, but God did not. God chose to have the full human experience. He was born, but he also had to go through childhood. He had to grow up. He wasn’t a baby that already knew how to speak like an adult. His body, his brain had to develop, just like us. He had to learn how to walk, learn how to speak. He would trip, fall, and skin his knee, just like any child. Now, he’s twelve.
According to the Law, all adult males had to go to the Temple three times a year for particular festivals. There were others that were optional. Passover was not one of the optional festivals. Our Scripture passage tells us that Joseph went every year. Not only that, but Mary went with him. That was not required, but it shows that they made an effort to follow the Law. Not only that, but they worked to maintain their relationship with God.
Males came of age when they were thirteen. Then, they also would be required to attend the Passover celebration in Jerusalem every year, but Jesus was twelve. He was still considered a child. It was common to bring a child a year or two before they were required, so they could practice the rituals and requirements of the festival. It was a dress rehearsal, so to speak. So, this likely was the first year that he was there for Passover.
You can see how it so easily could have happened. Twelve year old boy is near the Temple sometime during the week. He knows that the extended family is going to leave soon. They’ll never miss me. I’ll be back before they even know I’m gone. I have to do. I have to see the Temple. It could seem very reasonable to a tween mind. Not sinful. Not disrespectful, just thoughtless. He’s so engrossed with what he sees and the discussion that he loses track of time. The next thing he knows is that his family is gone, and he doesn’t know where to find them. It’s not like they all have cell phones, and he can call his parents. So, he stays at the Temple. That is something that I distinctly remember from my childhood. Find yourself separated from your parents? Stay where you are (unless it is a dangerous place). Otherwise, you might miss each other in passing. All of this together makes his confusion about his parents’ anger make sense. He may have impressed the teachers with his religious answers, but he still had some human learning to do.
There must be many stories that would illustrate Jesus’ humanity when he was growing up. Why did Luke choose this one? It is because of what Jesus says to his mother, after she scolds him for leaving the group without telling anyone. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house [or about my Father’s business]?” The Greek is hard to translate and can mean either, but it is very powerful if it means both simultaneously. He had to go to the Temple to be about his Father’s (God’s) business. This is the first time that we know of that Jesus recognizes and acts upon his unique relationship with God the Father. This is the point of the story. Moreover, we see that he was aware of this unique relationship long before his baptism, where God says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) So while we get a reminder of Jesus’ humanity, we are not allowed to forget who he is.
Yet, we are also seeing something that occurs in every adolescent’s life. Jesus is figuring out his identity as a person. What are the kind of things that can shape that for anyone? It might be who their family is, their interests, what they believe, what they dream for the future. Jesus shows us through his statement that he found his identity by acknowledging his relationship with God. A question to ask yourself, is the fact that you are a child of God part of your internal personal identity? Have you processed and accepted the fact that you are a child of God, and that should be a part of your personal identity? Do your actions match up with that? Are you living that way? It is something to consider.
Taking it a step further, is your faith in God a part of your everyday life? Does it influence how you interact with others? Does it shape your life? Does religion give you a place to come on Sunday mornings, a place to learn how to be a “good person,” meet and meet up with friends and neighbors? Is it about appealing to the divine for help, forgiveness, or fulfilling a duty? As we prepare to begin a new year, it might be a time to reflect on your true purpose for being here and whether it may be appropriate to adjust your thinking. Considering Jesus in the Temple at age twelve can help us to figure out (or the churchy word discern) the magnitude of God’s claim on our lives. Notice, that I said claim on our lives, not the part of our lives that we are willing to relinquish to God. Even, when our intent is very different, that can be what it seems like. This does not mean that we are all called to be preachers, teachers, or pastors. What it means that whatever we do, whatever our vocation is, we do it all to the glory of God. Some people refer to this as “Work as Worship,” whether that work is paid or unpaid (read “volunteer”).
You know what. That stand is not always popular. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. God’s claim on our lives can work against our desires for social acceptance, family allegiance, financial success, and other sought-after things in life. Maybe Jesus should have told his parents that he was going to the Temple, but he felt compelled, drawn to the place. He said that he “had to be in [his] Father’s house.” He was compelled to go. This is not unlike later when Jesus is led into the desert to face temptation by Satan. (Luke 4:1) The word “led” there has the added connotation of being pulled along or driven … compelled.
Jesus had a hard decision to make, hard for anyone, not just a twelve year old. Often, the hard decisions are not ones where you are choosing between the good and bad, but when both could be considered good. In today’s Scripture, Jesus is already elevating God over other priorities in his life, in this case his family. I am reminded of when adult Jesus was told that his mother and his brothers were asking for him outside. Did he stop the meeting? No, he says, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'” (Mt 12:46-50) That can sound very harsh, but in that case, his family was trying to pull him away from away from his mission … for the very best of reasons. They were trying to save his life … but he could not allow himself to be pulled away. And we know that he loved his mother. As he was hanging on the cross, he told John to take care of his mother after he was gone. (John 19:25-27)
So often when we are having to choose between two worthy things, we get stuck. We don’t make any decision. That is not good either. Jesus’ example to us is choose the path that is more God honoring. That is so hard to say because I know that I don’t always do that. As the disciples will say, this is a hard teaching. I know that I will rationalize what I want to do convincing myself that it is the most God honoring, but is it really? I will have to consider that more in my own life. It just goes to show that there is always more to learn.
As a human twelve year old, Jesus also had more to learn. After all with human limitations, his brain development could only accommodate so much by this time. And learn he did. The passage says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) You know what the good news for us is? This description of Jesus is the description of every child of God, no matter what our age. We will all grow as respond to God’s love. When we have Jesus we can expect nothing else. (Craig A. Satterlee, “Commentary Luke 2:41-52”, Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1524)