Our scripture reading today is the only passage in the Bible that gives us a view of Jesus’ childhood. This passage tells us that Jesus was raised a devout Jew: his parents every year went to Jerusalem for Passover, a requirement of devout Jews who lived closed enough to make the journey. At twelve years old, Jesus was now considered an adult for the sake of Jewish religious customs. So this year Mary and Joseph brought Jesus with them.
When Passover was finished, Mary and Joseph headed back to Nazareth. It was the custom for the women of the caravan to start out first inasmuch as they traveled more slowly. Joseph along with the men of the caravan would catch up to the women at the evening encampment. Joseph’s arrival at the evening encampment would be the alarm that Jesus was missing. Mary thought Jesus had stayed behind with Joseph and Joseph thought he had gone ahead with Mary. They realized there son had gone missing.
Have you every experience one of your children taking off or being left behind? Image what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary as they walked back to Jerusalem. Did they wait for the dawn before heading out? Traveling at night would have almost guarantee robbery and even their deaths. All night they would be anxious and fretting – where is Jesus? And then the hours long journey back to Jerusalem.
We had a similar experience compressed into a very short time. Decades ago Laurie and I were at the Woodbridge Mall with Jeffrey. We turned our backs on him for just a few minutes and he was off exploring. For the next 15 minutes we were in an anxious panic. Where did he go? The mall was crowded with shoppers. We had no clear view of the walkways, let alone the stores. Where was he? Eventually we found him and the relief washed over us. Then he was reprimanded for straying away from us.
Mary and Joseph suffered this for three days until they finally searched at the Temple.
When they arrived at Jerusalem, they would have back tracked through their previous movements, probably from whatever encampment they stayed in and finally to the Temple, the center of the Passover festival. There they found Jesus. He was participating in a question and answer session that the Sanhedrin held during the Passover season for students. At these sessions the students (all men) could gather and ask questions and listen to discussion of their religion and customs. Jesus was one of the men asking and listening – and doing a fine job of understanding and giving answers.
Mary was not pleased. She scolded Jesus for staying behind without a single remark of his plans. Have you had a son or daughter who went out with friends and didn’t bother to tell you they were going? We would not be pleased. Mary was not pleased.
“Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety. [Luke 2:48b]” Her admonition tells us much of Mary and Joseph. She has not accepted Jesus as an adult. She still thinks of him as a child. And she does the scolding, not Joseph. So Joseph, too, is not accepting Jesus’ adulthood. Together they have cancelled out his deep understanding of Jewish law and practice and still see him as a disobedient child.
But like a teenager (that Jesus almost was), he shot back an arrogant remark, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus must have realized that his parents didn’t understand to what or whom he was referring. Luke tells us that Jesus didn’t argue with them about the appropriateness of his action. He left with them and was obedient from that time.
If you have raised a teenager, you may be envious of Mary and Joseph. Jesus realized he had hurt his earthly parents and no longer did so. Often, I suspect, our own teenagers are not so sensitive but tend to be into themselves, often self-centered. Jesus even at that young age was thinking of others before himself.
Yet, Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”. At that moment she may not understand Jesus’ reference to God. But after the family was together again and her anxiety for the missing Jesus was dispelled, she began to process what he had done and what he had said.
In time Mary recalled the beautiful hymn she sang to her cousin Elizabeth when they were both pregnant, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savor… He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty … [Luke 1:47,52,53].” Now that Jesus was becoming an adult, her song of joy of doing God’s work, now became a worry of what God expected of Jesus. She realized … and worried … that on that day in the Temple, Jesus discovered who he was. She was going to have to come to terms with the reality that his pathway in life was a path to proclaiming a new way of living … and it would not be an easy path for him. …
When she, years ago they took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised, they encountered Simeon who was waiting for the coming of the Messiah. When he saw the baby Jesus, he saw the Messiah and left Mary with a prophecy, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too [Luke 2:34-35].” Now Mary was going to have to face this prophecy.
I doubt too many of us have or had a teenager with a prophecy hanging over their heads. I thank God none of mine have had to live with that. But still God gives each of our children talents and in some ways those are a kind of prophecy. We may rejoice in their talents and encourage them along. But like Mary we ultimately have no control over their pathway. We can only pray – as I suspect Mary did day after day – that God will be with them and protect them. Hopefully as the years unfold we see that God’s love and protection has borne fruit. But for Mary the pathway of Jesus will be a parent’s worse nightmare …
This is all the Bible tells us of Jesus’ childhood. We know no more other than some ancient writings not in the Bible. And these writings by and large are not considered definitive sources.
So we have to wonder what did Jesus do for the next 20 years. Many scholars estimate that Jesus was about 33 years old when he was crucified and his ministry lasted about three years. So there is a 20 year gap in Jesus’ development between the time he stayed with the rabbis at the Temple and the time he was baptized by John.
We can, of course only speculate. But twenty years is a long time for Jesus to develop into the figure we know. I think it’s safe to believe that Jesus followed Joseph into the trade of carpentry. He would have received business from any number of people. Likely he dealt with pilgrims coming to Jerusalem who needed repairs done on wagons. He would have dealt with local folks who needed roof and other house repairs. He may have dealt with agents of Rome who needed crosses built to execute insurgents.
And I suspect during all of this time, he spent as much time as he could in the local synagogue and annually at the Temple in Jerusalem. He learned to read Hebrew, since the gospels report him reading in the synagogue. He would have been a top student of the rabbis.
And he is likely to have been married … as expected of Jewish men.
But in all of this time he would have been a keen observer of the world around him. As he felt for his parents when he stayed behind and worried them, he would feel for all the people around him: the hunger, the fear, the oppression, the hopelessness, the constant uprisings, and the brutal and unjust laws. His observations would not be some scholarly understanding of events … he would see the reality of the suffering all around him. He would see the suffering of the mothers and fathers … and children.
When he went to the Temple each year, I suspect his questions and his answers would challenge the rabbis. Some would applaud him. Others would condemn him as a heretic. But he was just a carpenter. He offered good discussion during an otherwise bland meeting.
Then he was baptized by John and their world changed … But for Jesus the suffering was not a theological discussion point. It was a call from God who made Jesus possible.
From Jesus’ first time at the Temple as a budding adult through the 20 year span to his baptism by John, Jesus faith and calling developed and matured. Faith and call are not something that springs from a dream or a single event. They develop and mature throughout our life and through the experiences of our life. But it must be intentional. Faith development does not occur on its own. We must nurture our faith as Jesus surely did.
This last Sunday of 2012 is a time to reflect on our faith development and our calling by God. Our spiritual growth is a lifelong project of questioning and seeking answers, of intentionally reflecting on the experiences of our lives and the events around us. No one is absolved from this need, not even Jesus.
And this development isn’t just an issue of discovering who we are or what we must do. It is an effort to mature in our spirituality so that we are tuned to the call of God in our lives. Jesus was tuned to this at very early age as he engaged the rabbis at the Temple. But our tuning is most likely extended into every year of our life. And throughout our life we must be intentional.
For example, do we come to church to engage ourselves in the issues that really matter, not only in our lives but in the life of the world? Do we read the Bible regularly? And do we still read it like we did as a child or are we applying our lives to what we read and discover new meaning? Do we seek out the deep meaning of our beliefs that can critique our 21st century lives?
But we need to consider if our lives are too safe for growth and too comfortable for giving of our selves. Are we blinded by this safe comfort that we don’t hear and see what Jesus is really saying to us? Or has our faith matured enough to understand what Jesus understood that our calling no matter how mundane is a calling to lean into God, to live in God’s embrace, and like Jesus, be prepared and willing to believe and then to live our lives how God wants us to, even if that means we must stand over and against cherish cultural expectations of power, success, and greed?
Are we willing as 2013 finally arrives to follow the example of a 12 year old boy and be in God’s house every moment of our lives?
Think about it …
God’s grace and love be with you …