Theme: “Teach your parents well”
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we begin this new year recalling how your son was a willful child; may his example be for us a sign of the importance of religious education for all people of all ages, through our great teacher, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Some years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by Dr. Paul Ruskin on the “Stages of Aging.” In the article, Dr. Ruskin described a case study he had presented to his students when teaching a class in medical school. He described the case study patient
under his care like this:
“The patient neither speaks nor comprehends the spoken word. Sometimes she babbles incoherently for hours on end. She is disoriented about person, place, and time. She does, however, respond to her name… I have worked with her for the past six months, but she still shows complete disregard for her physical appearance and makes no effort to assist her own care. She must be fed, bathed, and clothed by others.
“Because she has no teeth, her food must be pureed. Her shirt is usually soiled from almost incessant drooling. She does not walk. Her sleep pattern is erratic. Often she wakes in the middle of the night and her screaming awakens others. Most of the time she is friendly and happy, but several times a day she gets quite agitated without apparent cause. Then she wails until someone comes to comfort her.”
After presenting the class with this challenging case, Dr. Ruskin then asked his students if any of them would like to volunteer to take care of this person. No one volunteered. Then Dr. Ruskin said, “I’m surprised that none of you offered to help, because actually she is my favorite patient.
“I get immense pleasure from taking care of her and I am learning so much from her. She has taught me a depth of gratitude I never knew before. She has taught me the spirit of unwavering trust. And she has taught me the power of unconditional love.” Then Dr. Ruskin said, “Let me show you her picture.” He pulled out the picture and passed it around. It was the photo of his six-month-old baby daughter.
Now, I like that story for several reasons. For one thing, it shows us the importance of perspective. And it shows us how essential it is to have all the facts before we make a decision. It reminds us too, that our children have so much to teach us if we will tune in and pay attention.
But also, it reminds me of this dramatic scene in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus lingers behind as a 12-year-old boy and gets separated from his family for three days. Eventually they find him in the Temple discussing theology with the rabbis.
What few details we have of Jesus’ childhood comes from Luke. From his birth to the story of the temple incident, this is what happened to Jesus, according to Luke: following the law, Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day of his life; following the law, Jesus was present at the temple for Mary’s purification 40 days after Jesus’ birth, where amazing prophesies about Jesus were made; and then the holy family returned to Nazareth, where “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40, NRSV)
Luke has three themes in this story about the boy Jesus in the temple that continues throughout his gospel: 1) the importance of the temple in Jesus’ life, 2) the boundaries of Jesus’ family, and 3) Jesus’ authority as a teacher of God’s word.
Luke makes great pains to demonstrate what faithful Jews the holy family was. Next we are told that the family made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. These are truly pious people.
During Jesus’ twelfth year for the annual pilgrimage, there was consternation caused by Jesus. It was time to go home, but Jesus seemed to think otherwise. He didn’t bother to tell Mary and Joseph about his decision. We don’t know why Jesus would do such a thing, but he does.
This may seem unusual to us. As parents we always try to know the whereabouts of our children. Though we no longer keep constant tabs on Brian, now that he is 31 years old. But things were different in that time and in that culture.
In that culture, it really did take a village to raise a child. All parents and elders looked after all the children. Churches can also be villages for parents. The holy family doesn’t travel as a nuclear family. Rather, they travel as a caravan of extended family and friends. Mary and Joseph merely assumed Jesus was with the group, somewhere.
That evening the couple went looking for their son – couldn’t find him. Panic ensued. Any parent who has turned around at some place, not seeing their child, knows what this feels like. They went back to Jerusalem in the dark – a dangerous journey. They looked for days.
Now, imagine Mary and Joseph trying to describe their son to people as they searched. “Twelve years old. About so high. Black hair. Wearing what all boys wear.” In other words, he looked like practically all Jewish twelve year olds! Probably didn’t help to narrow down the search.
Finally, they find him at the temple. By temple, what is meant is the temple precincts. Jesus wouldn’t be allowed in the temple. He isn’t yet a man and he is not a priest. But at the temple, people can see Jesus as important, whereas his parents can’t see it. Parents don’t always know everything.
Jesus was engaging the teachers in dialogue. This was the typical learning method. It is a rabbinical learning method. It involves asking questions and posing answers, evaluating the merit of each answer.
Well, this twelve year old seems to be very precocious. Everyone is impressed by his answers and questions. Asking the right question was often more important than the answer. It could be Jesus has learned all he can from his parents. It is time to hear from other teachers. His family of faith is expanding.
Mary’s response to Jesus upon finding him is a typical mother’s response, even a Jewish mother. “What have you done to us? Your father and I have been frantic looking for you. We were worried sick!”
Jesus makes this Mary’s problem, not his. Jesus is still in rabbinic mode. 1) Why were you looking? You haven’t figured out what I’m about yet? (And for us readers, we have the shepherds and their story of angels, we have the prophesies of Simeon and Anna, and Mary and Joseph haven’t put any of this together yet? They’ve had twelve years!) 2) “You’re wrong mother. The man you’re with is not my father. I am in my father’s house.” And guess what? They had no clue what Jesus was talking about. But Mary could have asked, “Whose your daddy?”
Jesus returned with them to Nazareth. He agreed that he would obey the fifth commandment and honor his father and mother. He did not disobey them again. Mary is still figuring everything out, like she is said to have done after the shepherds left twelve years earlier.
Jesus is Sophia’s son as well as Mary’s. The story concludes by letting us know that Jesus grew into a man: wise, strong, and held favorably by people and by God. This harmony is not to last very long. This story foretells Jesus’ final trip to the temple. There he will question the teachers and they will not appreciate it. Jesus is going to rub the wrong people the wrong way.
Most, if not all, parents turn off listening mode, at times. Like when our child yelled, “Mom, Mom, Mom! Or Dad, Dad, Dad!” The child had something to share, but all we heard was yelling. This was especially true if the setting was public or worse yet in church! Jesus was in church, in a way. He was listened to by the people there, but not by his parents. Children can teach us. They can teach us gratitude, love, and faith.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of listening and nonjudgementalism, so that we may be open to hear wisdom in unexpected places and from unexpected people, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Text: Luke 2:41-52 (NRSV)
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 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. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search 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 When his parentsl 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.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”m 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,n and in divine and human favor.