As usual, there’s no shortage of inspiring verses in our lectionary readings. The one that rises prominently today is Luke 2:41-52, the story of Jesus at age twelve. Aside from this, there’s no biblical passage that describes anything about Jesus between his early childhood all the way up to when he started his public ministry.
The setting for our discussion is such that Jesus had gone to Jerusalem with his parents for the high holy day of Passover, the most sacred time of the Jewish year. After the festival, Jesus went to the great temple without telling his parents where he was going. Mary and Joseph had already begun the long trek home before they realized that Jesus was missing. The parents of our Lord then had to return to Jerusalem and only after three days did they find Jesus.
Can you imagine how you’d feel if you were on your way home from far away only to discover that your child was missing because of some detour they chose? Imagine the terror, fear and almost unimaginable stress you’d endure until you found your loved one. I’m sure that’s precisely what Mary and Joseph endured. This was no small incident; the loss of a child isn’t a casual matter. After finding Jesus I can imagine the emotional eruption that ensued. “ ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety’ “ (Luke 2:48). The modern equivalent of a parents’ reaction might read like this: “Hey boy, what the heck are you doing? You can’t treat us like this!” Jesus’ response of saying he had to be doing God’s business has some interesting implications. The gist is that Jesus seems to be saying that Mary and Joseph overreacted to his unannounced departure. Jesus felt that his parents should have known more about what God’s mission.
What are we to make of this story? The text continues by stating that while he was at the temple, Jesus was in the midst of the religious scholars, listening to and even teaching them. This extraordinary situation must have caused a stir. Even Mary and Joseph were amazed when they heard Jesus. Again, put yourself in this circumstance and imagine what it would be like if you discovered your missing but brilliant child arguing with and intelligently discussing deep issues with university faculty.
Is there a strong lesson behind this story? One of the more obvious conclusions to draw is that Jesus was special, that he wasn’t a typical twelve-year-old. Think about Jesus’ divine status as at least a partial explanation of the way he acted. The rules were different for Jesus, and he could get away with behavior that might have earned any ordinary child a scourging. There’s also the sense that sometimes even parents don’t understand how God arouses ministry within the heart and mind of their child. Indeed, God’s calling in your life and in my life may be too strange for others to comprehend. We must persist in doing God’s work even if it stretches normal expectations.
Jesus was acting like an intellectual genius when most kids his age were playing in the dust. Talented and gifted children are probably nothing new, but in Jesus’ case God’s call was more than a step toward academic excellence. Jesus was learning about deep theological matters and synthesizing his knowledge into what became his great teachings later in life.
Perhaps your children and grand-children will do wonderful things in God’s name. And don’t give-up on yourself, either. Even if you’re not young in years God will still do a miracle in your life. Be open to God’s Spirit, sharing the joy of engaging life and gaining strength and blessings.