In the name of the Incarnate God, Amen.
Today’s Gospel story is one of a kind. This is the only story in all of Holy Scripture that tells us anything at all about Jesus between the time of his infancy and the time that He takes up his earthly ministry as an adult. And for a short story, this one is packed with information. There are several aspects of this story that bear examination, but the one that really stands out to me is the question: “Whose son is Jesus?”
Now obviously, we Christians know that Jesus is the Son of God. We know this because we already know the story of Jesus. We know about the miracles, the teachings, and most importantly, we know about the Resurrection from the dead and the Ascension into heaven. But perhaps the issue of whose son Jesus was, might not have been so clear cut, early on.
In today’s story, Jesus was twelve years old – or in modern vernacular – He was a “tweenager.” The experience of having a tween in the house is, to say the least, an interesting one. At an age in which a young person sits right on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, many interesting (and sometimes maddening) things happen to them, not the least of which is, the beginning of a need to start separating from their parents. At this stage of life, a young person starts to create an identity of his or her own. And that is a part of what was going on in this story of Jesus.
When Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem at the end of the Passover festival, Jesus stayed behind, literally and figuratively separating from his earthly parents. We do not know exactly why Jesus stayed behind in the Temple, but clearly it was more than just being a tweenager, it had something to do with living into the title of Son of God.
In Luke’s Gospel, from the time of the Annunciation to this time, Jesus’ relationship to God the Father has been spoken of by others. First, the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would carry the Son of God in her womb. Then Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, told Mary that John leapt in her womb when he heard the voice of the Mother of his Lord. Then Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, prophesied that Jesus would be the Savior of Israel and the prophet of the most high. And then, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple for the first time – as an infant – an old man named Simeon walked up to them and told them that he could now die happy, because his eyes had seen, “salvation, which [God had] prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to [God’s] people Israel.” And as soon as they had left Simeon, Mary and Joseph ran into the 84 year old prophet, Anna, who praised God and spoke to everyone about Jesus as the redemption of Jerusalem. But when Mary discovered that Jesus was not with the caravan of friends and relatives going from Jerusalem back to Nazareth, and she and Joseph trekked back to find Him in the Temple, Jesus’ first words in this Gospel are His announcement of whose Son He is.
For twelve years Mary and Joseph had been very good parents to Jesus. They had fed, clothed, cared for and taught Jesus. They had been good, devout Jews themselves and had no doubt imparted the importance of living a devout life to their child. They had Him circumcised on the 8th day; took him to the Temple for infant purification rites, and they made the costly and time-consuming yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. Mary and Joseph took good care of their son, we should never doubt that. They were his loving parents and he was their son. Then came that day. Jesus had been missing for three days by the time His parents discovered Him.
After a couple of days searching the Temple, His mom and dad found Jesus with the teachers, “listening and asking questions.” As an aside here, I think that it is important to note that – unlike the renaissance paintings which portray Jesus to have been “teaching in the Temple,” – what Luke tells us is that Jesus was listening to the teachers and asking questions. In other words, He was being a student. But the thing that made Jesus stand out was the combination of His young age and the understanding of the Scriptures that he already possessed.
When Mary and Joseph found him there they heard him interact with the teachers and saw the amazement of both the teachers and students who heard him. It must have been an amazing mix of emotions for His parents at that moment. On the one hand, they must have been incredibly proud of their son. But on the other hand, Luke tells us that Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” The word translated as “anxiety” here, is only used three times in the New Testament, and each time it means the broken heartedness of one who is losing someone they love. So clearly Mary and Joseph had the same feeling of sadness and loss that any parents would have if their child was missing.
Imagine what they thought next, when Jesus responded to His mother, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” Jesus made that announcement and thus made His first public proclamation about whose Son he really was. Jesus, the twelve-year-old prodigy with extraordinary knowledge of Scripture was now much more than just a gifted tween, suddenly he was something no one had experienced before, the face of God among humans. And this is where Jesus gives His first lesson on faithfulness.
There He stood in the Temple – the place where the Jews believed that God actually lived, the holiest place on earth – and He could very easily have told His mother that He had decided to stay there and continue His education while preparing Himself to do the work of His Father in the world. But He did not do that. He faithfully followed God’s call and returned with His parents to Nazareth and “was obedient to them.”
When He was a child, Jesus needed to know very little, other than the fact that His mom and dad loved Him. But as He grew, He began to experience God in new ways and He began to understand who He really was – and is. Whose Son is Jesus? He is the Son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth – earthly parents who loved and cared their child. But Jesus is also the only Son of God. The Son of the God who created and loves the world deeply enough to enter into our existence and love us the same way parents love their children. Amen.