01/03/16 (January 3, 2016) Where Have You Been, Young Man?!

posted Jul 6, 2016, 3:55 PM by David Hawkins
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:41-52

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 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. 

When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 

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." 

He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. 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.

Sermon: "Where Have You Been, Young Man?!"

One of the things I like about the Bible is how true it is. 

I’m not talking about a sort of literal truth, or, as Kevin Sweeney and I sometimes argue about, a sort of factual truth. I don’t think that the Bible is, or was intended to be a newspaper, or a list of facts. 

What I mean is that the Bible talks about true things, and puts them into a true sort of perspective. 

And today is no different. 

Luke offers a rare glimpse into the life of the childhood Jesus, and there are some uncomfortably true things revealed to us, if we are willing to go there. 

For one thing, Jesus doesn’t necessarily come off as being perfect in this story, which is interesting to me. Jesus actually seems to be like most young people starting to find themselves, starting to figure out their own identity. He seems like just about every proto teenager ever, someone who is establishing their own boundaries, someone who is just beginning to push against the boundaries his parents have set for him.

Those of us who have survived the terror of the teenage years, we know this Jesus. He grew up in our houses. He goes to our schools. Of we’re really hones, He is us, at one time in our lives, long ago.

Now, throughout the years since Luke wrote this, this true story of Jesus in the temple has been sort of sanitized, sort of spiritualized, sort of made into a story that was less true. Jesus, instead of being a talented, precocious, slightly rebellious young man, is instead presented as being the only reasonable person in the story. 

After all, he’s God, right? So, whatever he does is right and perfect, and everybody around him is, especially his parents, are at best over-protective worry-warts, or, at worst, un-spiritual know-nothings who are clueless about Jesus’ real identity and mission. They are made to look kind of unreasonable.

The problem is, while this interpretation makes this story easier for us, I don’t think that’s what it’s trying to tell us. I don’t think that Luke’s intent is for us to simply dismiss his parents’ concern, and to walk away with awe and reverence for his amazing display of Torah knowledge. If that’s all get from this story, if we dismiss all the stuff about his parent’s concern, if we rationalize away the fact that Jesus really did kind of go out on his own without telling his parents where he was going, then we run the risk of overlooking some important details. 

Let’s assume for a moment that Luke’s point in all this is not for us to simply say, “Gee whiz, Jesus is amazing. He must be the son of God,” and let it go. Let’s assume for a moment that Luke includes this story for other, important reasons than just to remind us that Jesus was special. 

Now, of course, Jesus is special. Jesus is the Son of God. I’m not disputing that. But I think that in the story, Luke has got other fish to fry. 

Let’s start at the beginning, and see where a close reading of this little slice of Jesus’s early life takes us. If you want to follow along, the scripture is on page 59.

 The story begins after the Passover festival, which makes sense,just about every important thing in Luke seems to happen around the time of the Passover festival. What’s interesting is that Luke feels compelled to tell us twice in the space of two sentences that this is a normal thing for Jesus’ family to make this yearly pilgrimage. 

“Now every year...” Luke tells us they went to Jerusalem, and then, just in case we missed it, they “went as usual.” It’s almost like Luke was afraid we might not get it. Almost as if we needed reminding that Jesus’ family were Jews, who followed the letter and the spirit of the Law. That the family that raised Jesus raised him according to the Torah, that they were fully aware of, and compliant with the traditions and laws of their religion. 

And then, after the festival was over, they left to return home. The trip to Jerusalem from Galilee was a long, dangerous journey, almost 70 miles. Walking would have taken at least 4 days and Luke lets us know that Jesus family did not make this trip alone. In order to keep safe, the family travelled with a whole bunch of their family and friends. It was a neighborhood caravan, a block party on wheels, a road trip, a social event. 

And when this crowd left Jerusalem, sort of like the movie ‘Home Alone’, his parents assumed that Jesus was with them, somewhere in the group, hanging out with his friends. 

But when they stopped after the first day of travel, they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. Can you imagine their reaction? Can you imagine their fear? 

I remember once when Karen thought she had lost Wiley in a department store when his was very little. He had gotten away from her and hid in a clothes rack, you know, for fun. They called a code Adam, and found him after just a couple of minutes, but those minutes were the most terrifying time of her life. 

And Jesus’ parents lost him for three days. Three days of frantic searching in a city that that had just hosted a festival with more than two million people. 

And so, of course, when they find him they are frustrated with him. And they have every right to be. Jesus might be the son of God, but he is also their son, and they love him, and they were worried sick about him. 

His answer to their worry is actually pretty normal for someone his age. “Why were you worried? I can take care of myself. I’m just fine here in the temple. Where else would I be? Why would you think that I’d be in any trouble? I’m grown up. I can take of myself.”

But then, after impressing the religious leaders in the temple with this questions, he returns with his parents and peace is restored to the family. 

So, what do we do with this story? Do we ignore the reality of his parent’s worry, the fact that Jesus really did do something that caused them three days of panic? Do we sanitize it, let it go with the easy understanding that Jesus is the son of God, he can do whatever he wants, and we, like his parents, just have to be O.K. with that? That, if we question what he’s doing, we’re slightly stupid, or even worse, not appropriately filled with awe at his amazing-ness?

I don’t think so. I don’t think that Luke wants us to simply dismiss this story as a demonstration of Jesus’ holy power. In fact, I think it exactly the opposite. 

Luke takes pains to remind us that Jesus was part of a family, with the normal ups and downs of family life. The same dynamics that drive us crazy as parents are at play in the story, in ways that we can immediately appreciate. 

Luke also takes pains to remind us that Jesus was part of a community, a religious community. He was firmly rooted in his world. He was not a loner or a hermit. He was connected, and that meant things. It meant accountability, it meant being part of something larger than himself. 

This story is true, because it shows us that Jesus was a human being. He grew up, he did things that drove his family crazy. He made the sort of decisions a twelve-year-old would make. He justified his actions the way a twelve-year-old would. This story is true, because we see ourselves and our children in it, if we choose to. 

But it’s also true in that that it makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to see Jesus as a twelve-year-old. It reminds us that that we don’t understand what it means that Jesus was human, and yet also divine. It would be so much easier if he was one or the other. It would be easier if Jesus was just God, without all the messy stuff that goes along with being human. 

But Luke is careful to remind us that Jesus was real, with real parents, with real concerns, with a real community to surround him with love and with boundaries. 

And in the end, Jesus respects that. The story could have gone the other way, you know. Jesus could have rejected his parents, rejected his friends and neighbors, and stayed in the temple, proving his amazing knowledge to the greatest scholars of Jerusalem.

But he didn’t. He came home with his parents. And he grew up, not as a God, but as child of Nazareth. Not as king of kings, but as that kid down the block, do you remember the time we almost left him in Jerusalem?

Yes, Jesus did amaze the temple scholars. He was obviously gifted. But even more importantly, for me, is that he was so obviously a child. A child of loving parents, a caring community, in the real world. Jesus was gifted, but he was still one of us. 

And this is what Luke is telling us. We can know God through Christ, because we can know Jesus. We can know the face of God, because we recognize the face of a child who might have been just a little bit too big for he britches, as weird as that is for us to imagine. We can know the love of the omnipotent creator of the universe, because we know the love of parents for a child they thought they had lost. 

And it’s the same frantic, all consuming love that made God choose to come to us as a baby. We were lost, but God loves us and went looking for us. And in Jesus Christ, we have been found. 

Glory to God in the highest
and peace to God’s people on earth! Amen.