Getting our heads around Jesus
40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him. 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:40-52 ESV)
It is every parent’s nightmare to lose a child – even for a short time. When they’re out of sight in this situation it means that the parents don’t know where they are precisely or what is happening – they know where they are not! – and there is a fear that grips the heart which is different to children being out of sight at school, travelling, at work, at a friend’s place, and so on. For Mary and Joseph to think after a day’s journey, “It’s ok, he must be in Jerusalem” simply isn’t enough information or comfort.
I’ve wondered what Mary and Joseph thought in that situation. Were there recriminations between them? Who knows? Were they worried? Yes! That’s clear in Mary’s words to Jesus. Did one of them think they should tell God before realising what a silly thought that was?! But were they worried that God was cross? We’ve lost the Son of God?!
It’s even harder to imagine Jesus in that situation and my guess is that people imagine Jesus as an exceptionally bright young person consumed by the religious topics and the moment and the place – the temple after all – and this was an extended ‘lost track of time’ situation. Luke’s account of the pre-teen Jesus is the only authoritative account the Church has of Jesus and we only have what we have heard in our reading today.
Yes, there are non-canonical manuscripts from the 2nd century around – notably the Infancy Gospel of Thomas – which present scenes from Jesus’ life from about 5 years old to 12 and the situation in the temple – but these scenes present Jesus with his super powers doing wonders but also killing children and creating havoc and fear among the other parents of Nazareth – and these accounts have never been regarded as authoritative.
And so we are left to hear and ponder and do what both Mary and Jesus did – treasure these things in our heart and also increase in wisdom and favour with God and the people around us – quite a tall order – but definitely an inspiring way to see how a person of faith in Jesus might view the world and live in it. Such a sentiment is not meant to crush us – of course, we will always find evidence of our lack of wisdom and we could always behave better with others – but rather it provides a perspective and orientation about who we are and how we live – we are confident of God’s love and we seek to make life better for those around us. Such spirituality is from a position of strength and confidence – if God is for us who can be against us? – which sustains and empowers us who live paradoxically ever conscious of our weakness, fears, ills, and sins.
It is this paradox of faithful living which can be confident and bold at one time and then fearful and doubting at another time that, I think, lies at some of the psychoanalysing of this scene and of Jesus himself. Who is he? Who is he really? And we struggle to put humanity and divinity together. We can put superhumanity and divinity together but not our humanity, the weak and dying humanity and divinity together. Ok, Superman has his Kryptonite to get at him, Achilles had his heel, and Jesus had nothing – nail and spear can pierce him through, and he gets tired and hungry just as we do it seems. We know what humans are like – the pandemic has brought home to us that we can be both fragile physically while also resilient physically – and so we wonder how Jesus can be human?
The fact that we are following him, that we listen to him, that we worship him and receive him and his gifts and blessings is because we know Jesus past 12 years old – and that he died and was raised to life again. The relationship foreshadowed in his explanation to Mary and Joseph where he seems incredulous that they had to search for him when they, of all people, should have known that he “must be in my Father’s house” is going to get Jesus into lots of trouble. This ‘my Father’, this making God close to him, not distant, personal, familial rather than regal and formal will get people picking up rocks to throw at you or orchestrating to have you cursed by God your so called Father.
And the ‘house’ can be understand as the temple and its precincts but later Jesus would tell his disciples on the night before he was arrested and then executed, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). Here Jesus isn’t talking about the temple but about where people can remain close to God – we jump to heaven as the place – and that’s ok as one answer but it starts with remaining close to God’s Word here and now – and Jesus is the Word made flesh who stays close to his people and gives them wisdom and insight.
No matter where we are in this world – home or hospital, shop or school, in fire or flood, church or community, pandemic or party, laughing or lamenting – words can stay with us! That’s their power and why we remember songs and poems and what people say to us – and those are human words and perspectives – and with Jesus we, like those teachers in the temple, can be amazed at Jesus’ teaching, his perspective, and how his words actually impact our actual lives – not theoretically but really – forgiving, guiding, teaching, sustaining, blessing. And then we live and one thing we do is decide for that moment whether we are following Jesus.
Jesus returned to his life in Nazareth and was obedient to his parents. We can assume at the next Passover he and his family were back in Jerusalem – and the routines of his life went on – but as Luke said he was growing – and Jesus only had what his followers have – words, God’s Word in scroll and synagogue, God’s Word in temple at sacrifice and blessing. This is what Jesus gives to his followers very clearly after his resurrection on the walk to Emmaus and then among his disciples back in Jerusalem – himself through words, bread and wine – and then later at his ascension – he definitely added words and water too.
Jesus took the long way to the cross – one day at a time over 30 or so years – living our life with his Father so that those who follow Jesus can live their lives – one day at a time and often for more than Jesus – 60, 70, 80, 90, even 100 years or more – with Jesus with them (and therefore with God for Jesus said that he and the Father are one). He is no genie or Superman but the crucified man who lives and understands our psychology, our health, our faith, our behaviour and desires to serve us so that we might live.
How we live is very much up to us. We plan for the future as we should and we live as the days unfold but we no longer live for ourselves nor for a legacy in this world but we want to grow closer to Jesus and closer to those around us – to help and serve them – because the mystery – the world keeps pushing this message away in its fear and wilfulness – of the manger God, the boy in the temple God, and the man on the cross God is that God wants us to live well here and now and that is why Jesus has done what he has done – lived how he lived. ‘Living well’ means that those around us live well also – and that requires our thought and effort each day.
- Luke 2:40 - 52