(sermon note: 01-03 sermon note)
Now every year his [Jesus’] 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.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a little boy who wanted a bike for Christmas really badly, but the kid was a real bad seed, and he knew it. Rather than making his plea to Santa as all the other kids are accustomed to doing, the boy decided to write a letter to Jesus himself. “Dear Jesus, if I get a bike for Christmas, I’ll be good for a whole week.” He thought about it, crossed out what he had written and instead wrote, “I can’t be good for a whole week, I’ll be good for five days.” After a little bit, he crossed that out and wrote, “I’ll be good for four days.” Then he thought some more and said, “Can’t do that.” He got it down to one day and said, “I can’t even be good for a day!” Then in frustration, he went in his mother’s room and got the statue of the Virgin Mary, wrapped it up in a blanket, put it in a paper bag, threw it in the closet and vigorously scratched, “Dear Jesus, if I don’t get a bike for Christmas, you’ll never see your mother again!”
Now that’s what I call a naughty little boy! To think he could force Jesus into being generous through fear and desperation?! Jesus doesn’t operate that way. He can’t be manipulated and threatened into being generous, he just IS generous with all that he has to offer. And besides, Jesus isn’t in the “business” of handing out bikes. He gladly leaves that up to Santa; he has more important gifts to offer than bikes. That silly boy should have realized all this before presenting his request to Jesus. He should have stuck to Santa and worked at being a boy worthy of a new bike…
But boys can be boys and they are prone to doing foolish things. Just look at Jesus in our reading for today. He and his parents had made the long journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual festival of the Passover. When it was all over, Jesus’ parents left to head back to Nazareth. They had gotten a whole day into their trip before they realized that Jesus hadn’t tagged along. Sounds awfully similar to the story of our friend, Kevin McAllister, from the “Home Alone” movies. It appears little boys have a tendency to get left behind during the holidays! Of course, Jesus’ parents flew into a frantic search for their boy until they finally found him in the temple, amazing the rabbis with his understanding of God. And Jesus’ mother, Mary, responded similarly to when Gabriel came and told her she was pregnant with Jesus: with awe and wonder. Mothers…you gotta love ‘em! Their ability to consider a frightening experience as an inspiring experience is admirable. I don’t imagine Joseph had a similar reaction. After all, Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem was an act of disobedience to his parents. Maybe not the act itself but certainly his not letting his parents know where he’d be, why, and for how long. ALL twelve year olds are obligated to tell their parents their whereabouts at all times and to not do so is, indeed, an act of disobedience. And Jesus’ response to his mother’s worry is an all-too-familiar response: “Why worry, mom? You should have known where I was at if only you thought about it some more!” A clever little shifting of the blame back on his mom. Aaaah…gotta love 12-year-olds! Well, you don’t gotta love 12-year-olds. What you gotta do is parent them, guide and protect them, give them the tools they need to become responsible and mindful young adults and later adults.
So what are we supposed to glean from this daring yet all-too-familiar act of disobedience on Jesus’ behalf? It’s somewhat telling that it’s the only notable story of Jesus’ childhood worth including in all of Scripture. We jump from his birth to this story at age 12 to his baptism with John the Baptist at age 30. Why only ONE childhood story?! Yes, it reveals that Jesus was just as naughty and foolish as all 12 year old boys but surely God has a deeper purpose to it. Perhaps it is a story about the importance of setting God as a high priority in life. Jesus and the Ten Commandments taught us that we should first and foremost love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls. We ought not have any other gods in our lives and that includes our parents. Honoring our parents comes further down the line of commandments, what’s most important in life is to love and serve God and God alone. Jesus taught us, “no slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Luke 16:13) Jesus was speaking about God and money but the truth of his teaching is universal. We can’t serve God and anything else, we must serve him and him alone. Jesus may have understood this at an early age. The Father may have called him to the temple during that Passover festival and he didn’t need to tell anyone where he was at because he was simply serving his one, true master. Of course, telling his parents his whereabouts is an act of honoring his parents, something that the Father would support and encourage.
Perhaps Jesus felt that telling his parents his whereabouts somehow compromised his service to the Father. The Father may have called him, the temple may have called him, the Father may have called through the temple, however Jesus was called he responded and perhaps that’s the importance of the story. In the book of James, we are advised, “but be doers of the word, not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.” (1:22-25) Jesus was looking into the perfect law, the law of liberty, when he went back to the temple. He was a doer of the word, God’s word, not merely a hearer. He was using God’s word to teach and serve the rabbis of the temple. I can’t imagine the rabbis were too pleased to be instructed by a mere 12-year-old but Jesus’ words were no doubt deep and profound and true. Who cares where truth comes from, just as long as it comes.
And truth be told, this story is just one of several that reveal both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. It reveals both Jesus’ priorities and his devotion to service. Jesus didn’t just teach how to live, he lived how we are to live. He faithfully served his one, true master even if it meant disobeying his parents. Nor did he hesitate to act when called upon by the Father. Sure, it took him another 18 years before he acted again at his baptism. But the story goes to show that even 12 year olds can act correctly when they’re not giving their parents or confirmation teachers a hard time! And for that we rejoice…thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.