|Pomme de Terre United Methodist Church|
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|"My Father's House"
Last Sunday I was preaching on
the anticipation of the birth of Jesus. And we have elaborate
details of Jesus birth and accompanying events in the gospels.
However, we have a rather large gap between Jesus birth and his adult
It is a gap filled with only one event in his life, and that event took place when Jesus was twelve.
It’s unfortunate that this is all that we know about Jesus youth.
Because what we end up doing is drawing implications from the details of his birth, or drawing implications from the details of this event, or drawing implications from the years of his ministry to fill out a picture of what he must have been like as a youth.
Personally, I think this is unfortunate. Because we can learn a great deal about people from their childhood and their youth. I think we can learn a great deal from how their parents reared them, from how they adapted to the events of their childhood, and how they responded to the culture in which they live.
Of course, there are those who would argue that all of this does not matter. Because, after all, was not Jesus the son of God? Well, yes; but we believe him to be both fully humand and fully divine.
In picking a single event between Jesus birth and his adult ministry, the selection we find in the Bible is anything but random. Indeed, for a young Jewish boy it would be the most significant event possible.
We read, beginning with the forty-first verse of the second chapter of the gospel according to Luke:
“Now every year [Jesus] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.”
It was an annual pilgrimage. Any Jew within reasonable traveling distance made the trek to Jerusalem, to the Temple, every year for the Passover. And Joseph and Mary were no exceptions.
According to Jewish law, as we read in the twenty-third verse of the thirty-fourth chapter of the book of Exodus, “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.”
Those three times were Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. We know of Passover and Pentecost. The third feast lasted a week in late October. It marked the completion of the harvest and commemorated the wanderings in the wilderness.
“And when [Jesus] was twelve years old, [Joseph and Mary] went up as usual for the festival.”
According to later Jewish custom, a male child officially became a man and undertook the traditions of his ancestors at the age of thirteen. So, at the age of twelve, Jesus would still be considered, officially, a child.
However, considering what is going to take place later in this passage, it may well be that this is Jesus first visit to Jerusalem. Women and children were not routinely required to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Only the men.
Anyway, this year the family makes the trip. And scholars suggest that the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem would have taken about four or five days.
So, “When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.”
You’re heading home from vacation. Do you know where your children are? Like noises you’ve heard me make before, don’t get too carried away with so-called Biblical family values. Just because a family is in the Bible does not mean that it is perfect.
Just because the parents are Joseph and Mary, the earthly parents of the son of God, does not mean that they are perfect.
Sometimes parents beat themselves up because of the mistakes they make, or THINK they have made. They shouldn’t. First of all, parents should not expect to be perfect; and secondly, most of the time you’re probably a whole lot better than you give yourselves credit for.
So Jesus parents did not know that he stayed behind in Jerusalem.
“Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.”
Did you ever travel somewhere in a very large group with multiple vehicles? A caravan, a convoy? And ASSUME that everyone had been accounted for and each was somewhere in one of those vehicles?
Or have you heard stories of church youth groups, traveling in convoy, who leave an event thinking that each of the youth is SOMEWHERE in one of those vehicles. Only to discover later than some absent-minded youth wandered off, not paying much attention to anything, and missed his ride.
Well, the Jews who journeyed to the Passover probably did so by foot. And they probably also did so in large extended families and groups of friends and neighbors.
And if Joseph and Mary have a child with them, there is a strong likelihood that there are OTHER children walking down that road.
So it is quite reasonable for them to assume that Jesus is just off playing with the other kids in the neighborhood.
“When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.”
Now, if you’re really in the mood for guilt-tripping yourself, put yourself in their sandals. After traveling a day, with no sign of their son, they look for him among their relatives and friends. ALL of their relatives and friends. And that, in itself, was probably an exhausting search.
But not finding Jesus, they backtrack. They do that one-day’s journey BACK to Jerusalem. All the while, probably looking for him along the way and wondering where to look for him when they get back to Jerusalem.
Now, keep in mind how much times have changed. They can’t go to the local law-enforcement office to inquire about a missing person.
They can’t go to their friends and neighbors and relatives because all of THOSE people are on the road headed back to Nazareth!
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”
THREE DAYS! Mary must have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Three days. Of sleepless nights. And meals that will not digest because of intense nervousness.
I remember once when I was in the fifth grade and my second brother was in kindergarten. Mother about went crazy when she lost him for an afternoon!
And how was Jesus taking care of himself--at the age of twelve--during those three days? Was he sleeping in the temple? Scavenging food?
Well, he WAS in the temple: sitting, listening, and asking. On the one hand, we might say that this is typical childhood curiosity. But on the other hand: a three-day conversation with rabbis?
And notice especially HOW he is behaving: “listening to them and asking them questions.” Jesus is not a twelve-year-old prodigy know-it-all. He is seeking to LEARN from the rabbis.
“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
We might say that Jesus debuted to wild critical acclaim.
But personally, I wonder if this was an abitrary starting point. Did Jesus curiosity, his understanding, his amazing answers all just come out of nothing? Or was there some base for this that had been building in Nazareth, in his family, in their religious observances?
Recall that this passage opened with “...every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.” Note that it does not say his FAMILY. Perhaps this is the first year that they have taken Jesus along.
Perhaps this is his first experience of Jerusalem and the Temple since he was an eight-day-old infant. And suddenly, all that he has heard of Jerusalem is now becoming real for him. Suddenly, all that he has heard of the Temple is now becoming real for him. Suddenly, he realizes that he has access to Jewish teachers and scholars.
“When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
And Mary just doesn’t get it. Actually, we might wonder why Mary is behaving like this. She seems to assume that Jesus wishes to do them harm--”Why have you treated us like this?”
And we might ask Mary, “Well, why didn’t you check to be sure that he was with you when you left Jerusalem?”
But seriously, isn’t that question--”Why have you treated us like this?”--the question we frequently unload on God? We ASSUME that God is with us on our journey, but we don’t check to be sure.
We go our way, do our thing, and casually think, well, God’s around here somewhere. And then we go looking, and we discover that God is not where we thought God was, or where WE wanted God to be.
And God’s answers are not the immediate, expected answers that we desired.
Jesus has an answer for Mary.
“He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
And I think that this is really a single question: “Did you not know where you could find me?”
Good question! Has Mary forgotten the visit of the angel Gabriel, who foretold the birth of Jesus to her? Has Mary forgotten her visit to Elizabeth, also pregnant, who foretold the child Mary was carrying?
Has Mary forgotten her own song of praise for the gift God had bestowed upon her? Has Mary forgotten the birth event itself and the visit of the shepherds, who passed along the message they had received regarding the identity of the child?
Has Mary forgotten the presentation of the child in the temple and the responses of Simeon and Anna?
Even now, every November, my mother remembers the birth of her first-born. You would have thought that Mary could have handled that after a mere dozen years. But, apparently not.
Scripture tells us, quite coldly, “...they did not understand what he said to them.”
Did all that history disappear in a haze? Maybe it did. Or maybe they just can’t make the connections. Or maybe they just do not WANT to make the connections.
Perhaps in our own spiritual lives these things happen. Perhaps we too forget what should be significant events. Or, perhaps we remember the events but don’t understand the implications.
Or, perhaps we understand the implications all too well, but do not WANT to, and we push them aside, disown them.
“They did not understand what he said to them.”
Look at it this way. Jesus is getting practice. He will need to deal with this throughout his adult life. And for the next two millenia, his words will continue to receive the same response from many.
“They did not understand what he said to them.”
Do we forget? Do we not understand? Or do we not want to understand?
“They he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
So after this amazing event of three days in the temple with the rabbis, Jesus goes home and is a good little boy. Until about eighteen years later when he drives everybody crazy again. And what does it mean that Mary “treasured” all these things?
Scripture tells us that she was an upset, scolding mother!
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
He become smarter and older, and God and everybody else loved him.
So how are we to understand all of this? Is it just another sweet little Bible story, or is there something deeper here for us?
Tomorrow is the first day of 2007. Much has changed since the earthly Jesus left us. But much remains the same. And I like to think, to believe, that Jesus continues to ask me, “Do you not know where you can find me?”
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