June 4, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 2:41-52.
Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
Luke is the only gospel writer to give us this account. In fact, he is the only one to give us any information about the growing up years of Jesus.
I’ve always wondered about this story. Mary and Joseph had been told that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that he would fulfill the prophesies of God’s messengers. Luke tells us that the archangel Gabriel said to Mary, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The angel told Joseph in a dream, “For it is through the holy Spirit that his child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” I don’t think I would have forgotten these angelic announcements if I had been Mary or Joseph.
It’s easy, though, for the routine of life to displace the extraordinary. I vividly remember the birth of my children and the awesome realization of God’s gift of life, of His entrusting to us the care of these new lives. As the days and years went by, with the daily responsibilities of caregiving and teaching, I often forgot the wonder and awe I felt at their births. So, I can understand their misunderstanding of Jesus’ reply. After all, most everyone in the gospels misunderstand Jesus identity, his teachings, and his mission — at least at first. Mary, like others, had to tuck his words away and mull them over and over to come to a clear understanding of his meaning. I have to do the same thing in reading and re-reading the words of Jesus. They have layers of meaning for me depending on where I am in my faith journey and what is going on in my life. No matter what, though, he speaks to me in a way that I can discern how he wants me to live out his teaching.
Barclay tells us, “A Jewish boy became a man when he was twelve years of age. Then he became a son of the law and had to take the obligations of the law upon him.” Here in the temple Jesus was listening to rabbis teach about the scriptures and about the nature of God. He asked questions and, in the Socratic method employed, the rabbis asked him questions. They likely didn’t provide pat answers for him; they invited him to think for himself, to apply what they were teaching to formulate his own answers. Those who heard his responses were astounded at his comprehension and the ways in which he applied God’s word to the questions of life. This technique that he learned from the rabbis is one that he used throughout his ministry and even through his questioning by the Sanhedrin and Pilate. He always returned questions with more questions, forcing people to think for themselves, to come to their own conclusions, to listen for God’s answers.
Isn’t it fascinating that Luke tells us that Jesus advanced in wisdom? He never had all the answers. He was always conversing with his Father to discern His will. If Jesus didn’t have all the answers, how in the world can I expect that of myself or anyone else? Others can help me toward a full understanding, but I have to get there on my own through reading and reflecting on God’s word, through prayer and revelation. And with greater understanding comes more questions, leading me deeper and deeper into relationship with God. There are no final answers; there are only more questions. There is no end until I come to rest in Him, in His house.