Have you ever misplaced something? Of course you have. We’ve all done that. Perhaps we were reading a book and put it down and then later couldn’t remember where we put it. Maybe we were watching television and couldn’t remember where we put the remote control. What do we do when we misplace something? We usually retrace our steps to all of the places we have been until we find it.
Our Gospel reading today is about some parents who misplaced something. Now, these weren’t just any parents. They were Mary and Joseph — the parents of Jesus. Mary and Joseph didn’t misplace something like a book or some keys. They misplaced Jesus!
Luke is the only Gospel writer to give us a clue about Jesus’s childhood. As a doctor and an observer of life, he had a sense of the importance of the story. He chose this one incident because it reveals so much about the boy Jesus.
Sometimes we lose Jesus. We get so busy in our daily routine that we never give him a thought. Then, one day we realize that He is missing. Do you know what we need to do when that happens? We need to retrace our steps and go back to the place we left him. Where do we usually find him? In his Father’s house!
Things other than children can go missing. Many of us spend our lives looking for peace. We often look for it in things such as relationships, drugs, alcohol, food, or material possessions. True peace can only be found in a relationship with Jesus. We can find Him in His Word.
Jewish law required every adult male living within 25 miles of Jerusalem to attend the Feast of the Passover and then the succeeding celebration of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. Every male Jew, no matter where he lived, desired to partake in these high and holy days of Judaism at least once in his lifetime. Women were not required to go, but they often did. Mary, Joseph and Jesus went during the Feast of the Passover on this occasion.
Mary had to search for Jesus for three days. Those of you who are parents can imagine the severity of her fear and stress. She might have questioned her ability as a mother to let something like this happen to her son. She might have been filled with self-doubt and self-loathing along with her maternal instinct to never stop searching for Jesus, no matter what the cost to herself. Did she eat anything during these three days? Did she get any sleep?
Leaving Jesus behind was not an act of negligence by Jesus’ parents. Most entourages to the Passover Feast went by caravan, with the women and children traveling ahead because they had to go slower, and the men following behind. Whole caravans of relatives and friends traveled together. There was less danger of robbery and increased fellowship. If the journey lasted more than a day, the travelers would agree on a stopping place and then set up camp for the night. Joseph might have assumed that Jesus was with Mary, and Mary might have assumed that Jesus was with Joseph. At that gathering point at the end of the first day is probably when Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with either one of them.
After searching they found Jesus in the temple with the teachers. He was listening and asking questions. This was appropriate, because God is love, and love involves listening. During Passover the Jewish religious leaders or teachers would come out to the terrace of the temple, sit in a circle on the floor, and discuss matters of the law, Jewish theology, and worship. Guests could become part of that discussion-if they could hold their own. As Jesus spoke with the teachers in the temple, He was not speaking and teaching the leaders as God. He spoke as a boy with a passion for God and a keen mind seeking to learn as much as possible from these respected teachers.
By the time Jewish boys were five, they would have begun to read the Scriptures aloud, including Leviticus, the book of ceremonial laws that explained how devout Jews should perform their various religious observances. By the age of 12, they knew the Psalms and were instructed in the basics of Hebrew law and history. Jesus’ understanding (the ability to integrate and articulate a diversity of information) was extraordinary.
Although Joseph apparently held his tongue, Mary reacted emotionally, calling attention to the distress Jesus had caused them. His parents did not yet understand Jesus’ meaning, but these first recorded words of His establish that He knew both His divine identity as the Son of God and His purpose. Mary didn’t understand all that God was doing in the life of her child, but she accepted that God was at work, that Jesus really was about God’s business in God’s house.
Jesus’ response startled his parents. They did not understand that Jesus had just crossed a spiritual threshold, claiming His rabbinical vocation. He asks, He answers, and He grows. Jesus became attuned with God’s vision for His life. He became our healer, teacher, and Saviour. He experienced divine wisdom and stature. He experienced a sense of holiness in the events of life and openness to the image of God in unexpected and contrasting places. If His parents had known where He must be, they would not have searched so frantically in so many other places for so long. Jesus told them something about the sense He had of God’s call on His life.
Jesus, like most children, possessed a special clarity and wisdom when it came to matters of faith. They seem to understand at some deep and innate level that Jesus is for them and that they belong in God’s house. It’s no wonder that Jesus told His disciples, “Let the little children come to me.” It’s also no wonder that Jesus told us that we have to come to the kingdom like little children-naïve, full of wonder, curious and trusting. Unfortunately, we as adults often throw cold water on this understanding with rules, regulations, and structures.
What would our churches and faith communities look like if we could instill in our congregations that they are to treat children the same way that the teachers treated Jesus? They did not tell Him to go away. They engaged with Him and let Him speak. If we engage with children, one of them might become the next Billy Graham!
Joseph and Mary did not fail to trust in Jesus, who is also their Lord. They didn’t see the demands of love unfold, and trust as part of love makes more demands as the years go by. God is with us through Christ, so children should be given His divine presence as early as possible. Unless they die, they will grow just as Jesus did. Jesus grew in wisdom, grace, age, and love. To grow in love is to grow in the capacity both to trust and to be trusted.
When Jesus answered Mary and Joseph, He made a clear distinction between His heavenly Father and His earthly father. This is the first time that Jesus introduces us to the concept of God as a father who is present, someone we can call “Abba,” which means father or daddy. This was not the awesome God that the Jews worshipped, served, and feared. We can talk to God about anything. We can relate to Him and He can give us direction. He cares about us in all situations of life.
From a very early age, Jesus spent a lot of time alone with His heavenly Father. This practice made Him spiritually mature far beyond His years. Even as a child, Jesus spoke of spiritual issues in ways that His hearers often did not understand. Serious Christians often struggle to gain understanding as Mary and His disciples did.
Like any child, Jesus was subject to His earthly parents. Being the Son of God did not relieve Him of His responsibilities as a member of Joseph and Mary’s family. Jesus took on a human form and submitted the use of His divine powers to God’s will. There were times when His godly powers were used, and other times when they were hidden by His humanity in accordance with His Father’s will. Jesus was therefore subject to the normal process of human growth. When Jesus turned 12, He was no longer just growing. He was advancing. Growing is passive. Advancing is intensely active.
Jesus grew and learned. He didn’t have all knowledge from the time He was born, because He emptied Himself of all knowledge when He became human. He, like all children, learned by observing and by trial and error. He learned responsibility by parental rules and enforcement until these rules and values became internalized. Even though He had to learn like all children, He was specially gifted by God. He knew who He was even if His parents did not. He answered His call to obey God, but part of that obedience involved submitting to His earthly parents. In doing so, He obeyed the commandment to honour His earthly mother and father.
If we like things to stay the same for us and we like our friends to be familiar, the Christian life can be scary and chaotic. That was part of what Mary experienced when she didn’t know who Jesus was. Sometimes we don’t know either. Jesus’ own life was chaotic and scary at times also. The Christian life is an adventure. We know we have to do this. We know we have to be with Jesus and with each other.
Jesus said it was important for him to be in his Father’s house. His priority was set. It is also important for us to be in God’s house. Why? Because His Father’s house is our Father’s house too! It is a house of worship, a house of prayer, a house of peace, a house of love, a house of joy. We must fight the urge to naturally drift away from this priority. This includes saying no to anything that keeps us from doing what matters most. Jesus knew what His priority was. Do we know that our priority should be the same as His priority? What better place and priority could there be for a child of God than to be in the Father’s house?
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