A few weeks ago you may remember that I struggled with the fact that some of our Bible stories were being used out of sequence. Well, this week the lectionary does it again. We go from celebrating Christ’s birth last week to a story today about Jesus as a twelve year old. Then next week – being Epiphany – he’ll be back to being a baby again with the visit of the Magi.
I think we have to do so much jumping around in time because we have such a difficult time sorting out who Jesus was. There is a lot to figure out and he just won’t fit in a neat little box. He is such a complex figure in our faith – fully human yet fully divine. At Christmas we highlight and celebrate Christ’s divinity – claiming him as Emmanuel, God-with-us – but today we concentrate on the equally as important human side of Jesus.
In today’s reading, we get our only glimpse of Jesus between his birth and the start of his ministry at 30 years old. As the story goes, Jesus was in Jerusalem celebrating Passover with his parents. At twelve year old, Jesus was growing up, becoming more confident and independent – maybe a bit too confident and independent. He leaves his parents, without telling them that he is going and he is lost to them. It’s three days later before they finally find him, worshipping God in the Temple by seeking knowledge and asking questions with other faithful believers.
Listen for the Word of God in Chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel, verses 41-52
Every year during Jesus’ childhood, His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. When Jesus was 12 , He made the journey with them. They spent several days there, participating in the whole celebration. When His parents left for home, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem, but Joseph and Mary were not aware. They assumed Jesus was elsewhere in the caravan that was traveling together. After they had already traveled a full day’s journey toward home, they began searching for Him among their friends and relatives. When no one had seen the boy, Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched for Him.
After three days of separation, they finally found Him—sitting among a group of religious teachers in the temple—asking them questions, listening to their answers. Everyone was surprised and impressed that a 12-year-old boy could have such deep understanding and could answer questions with such wisdom.
His parents, of course, had a different reaction.
Mary asked him: Son, why have You treated us this way? Listen, Your father and I have been sick with worry for the last three days, wondering where You were, looking everywhere for You.
Jesus replied: Why did you need to look for Me? Didn’t you know that I must be working for My Father?
Neither Mary nor Joseph really understood what He meant by this. Jesus went back to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother continued to store these memories like treasures in her heart. And Jesus kept on growing—in wisdom, in physical stature, in favor with God, and in favor with others.
Here ends the reading. May we be blessed in our hearing of this scripture.
Mary and Joseph are going through something that all parents have to face eventually – their child changing and growing up. Now, hopefully it’s not quite this dramatic for most parents. Hopefully most 12 year olds don’t decide to disappear for 3 days. But, nevertheless, the change can be scary.
We’ve all gone through this – maybe as parents ourselves, but certainly as children. We’ve all reached a point in our lives when the journey to becoming our own person divides us from our family. That change can be scary. It can be terrifying both for the adults and for the youth. It signals a time when paths diverge, when growing teens or young adults begin to break away and when the responsibility of life becomes their own. Parents have to find ways to let go and the youth begin to feel the full burdens that life can carry.
Change is hard. But change so often signifies growth. Jesus left Mary and Joseph because he began to hear where God was calling him. He found his way to the Temple to begin to discern where God was in his life. Gathered with a community of faithful teachers and disciples, Jesus joined them in worshiping God, singing songs, asking the difficult questions and praying for God’s wisdom in the answers. If Jesus hadn’t begun to take the opportunity to change and grow, his ministry may never have taken hold. If he hadn’t taken the risky steps of walking away from his familiar place next to his parents, his story may never have been written. Think of the countless generations of people whose lives that would have affected. The millions and millions of people whose lives have been changed in the past two thousand years because of others who have heard Christ’s teaching and followed in his footsteps. Without Jesus taking that first frightful step, where would we be today?
Fortunately, Mary and Joseph found Jesus again. And Mary seemed to begin to recognize that her son was special. We don’t hear the next part of the story – as I said, we don’t see Jesus again until he’s 30 – but we can assume that the 12 year old returned home with family. Together they returned to their familiar surrounding but all three were changed that day. Their bond as a family was altered, Jesus role as a son may have changed (perhaps his parents kept a closer eye on him in crowds), but together, Jesus, Mary and Joseph continued to grow in their understanding of God’s call for their family. Following in their footsteps, we’ll do the same, as we continue to sing together, pray together and grow together as we seek out God’s call for Memorial Congregational Church.
©Rev. Thomas O’Brien, 2012