December 27, 2015
Luke 2: 41-52
Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Luke has an interesting way to end this story. But I think we are in danger of missing what was really going on here, if we only skim the summary of this trip. Some people may think that the main point of this passage is to teach kids that even Jesus was naughty & didn’t listen to his parents one time, & he got in trouble, so we should all listen & do what our parents want us to.
So, what was really going on, what were these people really thinking? I wonder if we can picture what is like to have a very intelligent middle school boy travelling with us, going a hundred miles from a small town up North, down to the Capitol, Jerusalem, to celebrate Passover & see the Temple & probably visit with the cousins. If they had been able to post a record of the trip on FaceBook, we would be able to understand, but this morning, I invite you to stretch your imagination & try to empathize with the people in this tale, this allegory of our lives.
I would imagine that being good parents to Jesus could be challenging. Mary & Joseph probably felt they should pay attention to what Jesus was thinking, and guide him in learning their faith traditions. Jesus may have just celebrated his bar mitzvah, and this Passover pilgrimage would have piqued his curiosity, so if he was like the intelligent, inquisitive Middle School boys we have worshipped with in this congregation, I can picture him asking his folks a lot of questions, and maybe he even cracked some jokes! But, after hiking down from Nazareth, through Samaria to Jerusalem, supervising their son in the big city, reminding him of the rules for when we are in the Temple, and through it all, maybe not getting enough sleep… By the time everyone was preparing to head back home together in the caravan, it is possible that Mary & Joseph may have felt they had done their turn at listening to their talkative son. Jesus may have a found a group of buddies to hang-out with, instead of helping to get everything cleaned-up & ready for the trip. We can almost hear Mary saying, “It sure does take a village to raise a son these days!”
Luke’s story doesn’t say much about the other people Mary & Joseph were traveling with back to Nazareth, but I can picture a meeting of the Parents of Adolescents Support Society (P.A.S.S.) on their first evening on the road after leaving Jerusalem. Mary stands up and tearfully asks if anyone has seen her son, Jesus. Her friend, Miriam, who has a couple sons a little older Jesus, reassures her, “Mary, don’t worry about those boys; they were pretty good & didn’t cause any problems at the Temple, and they probably need a little time to relax & play. They know we have a long hike to get home, & I’m sure Jesus will be asking you for breakfast first thing tomorrow morning.”
So, if you were in Mary & Joseph’s position, would you tell the other people in the caravan that you lost your kid, and were leaving their group to go back to Jerusalem on your own? Back through Jericho & up the mountain to search for a young man, alone in the big city? I mean, can Mary & Joseph get upset with their son for failing to say where he was going, if they don’t tell their friends when they are leaving? Or, if they tell their friends, and their friends try to talk some sense into them about robbers on the open road who assault travelers, well that could delay the inevitable, make it harder to leave, and then what will they be thinking on each step of the journey back to Jerusalem?
Mary & Joseph undoubtedly had some pretty negative thoughts & feelings as they were walking back, and it probably would have been a great time for an angel to suggest again that they not give in to fear, or blaming themselves, or blaming each other, or feeling stupid, worthless, lonely, irritable, or guilty. Perhaps this is the part of the allegory that we can relate to most easily. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but if you have ever kicked yourself for something, when you were not the one who messed-up, just keep breathing. For those of holding your breath, don’t worry, we won’t tell! Sure enough, it must not have been much fun heading back to search for a son who should have been with group heading up home to Nazareth. Luke’s account says they travelled for one day, and then took three days to find Jesus. Now, maybe that’s supposed to be foreshadowing of Jesus being away from his disciples on Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Sunday; or maybe it shows us how deep the discussion was in the Temple, but for Mary & Joseph, it probably felt more like 40 days & 40 nights. The NRSV translates Mary saying they have been looking for him with “great anxiety.” I’m guessing that is the polite form of the phrase any parent may have expressed when the child you have been worrying about, searching for, totally frustrated with, and profoundly disappointed in, is suddenly found, and he replies, “What? Why are you so uptight? Chill out!”
OK, actually that’s not the quote, but it may have been what his parents heard. Certainly they were upset and hurt, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible called “The Message” describes Mary saying, “Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.” Yet, “the scholars in the Temple were quite taken with the young Jesus; they were impressed with the sharpness of his answers” as well as his questions. We can probably relate to both the response of his parents, as well as the reaction of the rabbis.
Yet, the really significant point of this story lies not with the parents, their friends, nor even the Temple leaders; no, I think the point really is about what was Jesus thinking. What was his perspective? Why didn’t he tell his parents he was going to stay after Passover to discuss scripture with the religious leaders? And what does that say for each of us?
Jesus was not being a rebellious or irresponsible teenager. From his perspective, he was doing the more important thing while he had a chance. This story is not about parenting challenges, nor is it about why it’s important for church youth group leaders to get parent permission slips for every student who wants to participate in church-sponsored activities. This story becomes allegorical in how we are all called to discern what God wants us to do with our lives now.
If we pray seriously and think carefully, and discover that God is calling us to accept a challenge that causes pain and agony to our parents or other relatives,
perhaps disapproval by our families is not a reason to ignore what we know in our hearts we really need to do. Similarly, can churches experience this same phenomena: can listening to God’s priorities cause pain and agony among sincere & devout church members who each have their own perspectives? Is it possible that God had called us to work on a certain set of issues in the past, and is calling us to accept new challenges today? For this congregation as well as our denomination, as well as for all Christian churches in the world today, God may be asking us to learn how to practice compassion for people with other faith traditions, to let go of resentments or fears, and to engage in dialogue with secular humanists, Moslems, Jews, and Buddhists. God may be calling us to address issues of global climate change and immigration, as these two topics do converge. God may be calling us to be peace-makers between the NRA gun-rights advocates, and those who feel that our biggest threat as a society comes from the number of people killed by guns every year.
So, doing what God is calling us to do can cause pain & agony for our relatives, also it can cause pain & agony within and between congregations, plus, it may even cause pain and agony within one’s self. If 12 year old Jesus was as compassionate as I suspect he was, I bet that he was painfully aware of the distress he had caused his parents, and probably felt ashamed of his selfish behavior. We also may have had occasion to look back on something we knew we had to do, and realize later that we went about it in a rather clumsy way; again, no show of hands is necessary, just keep breathing if you can relate. Yet, even though we may occasionally make a mess of things, God is calling us to use our brains, to use our talents, to try something new, and show love to our neighbors & to our enemies. Even if it isn’t a popular cause, God is still speaking.