The Business of Wisdom

A sermon preached Dec 30, 2018 at Parkwood Presbyterian Church, Jenison MI

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

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.

Luke 2: 41-52

Whenever I am invited to preach somewhere, my habit is to follow the Revised Common Lectionary (which is an agreed upon set of readings used across Christian denominations) for scripture passages to preach. A lot of pastors follow the lectionary for preaching and so if that’s the practice of the church, I fit right in. If the church doesn’t follow the lectionary, my using lectionary texts doesn’t affect anything. But that’s how we ended up with the story of the boy Jesus in the temple.

I know, we just celebrated Jesus’ birth less than a week ago and now the lectionary moves us on to teenage Jesus. It’s a big jump. And in a couple of weeks the lectionary will take us back to baby Jesus and the visit of the Magi. We’re out of chronological order-You’ll have to take this up with the lectionary folks.    

Often it’s hard to read Biblical stories as if real people, actual humans are involved. We tend to treat biblical characters as larger than life. They lived a very long time ago and in a very different culture. Sometimes they just seem weird. We see them as examples of great piety or a unique relationship with God. Often they can seem not quite real.

And I think we particularly have trouble seeing Jesus as a real person. But it is important that we do. As Christians one of the things we hold to be true about Jesus was that he was fully human and fully divine. Not half and half. Not human sometimes and divine others. But fully, truly human and fully, truly divine. All at the same time. This is hard to comprehend.

Luke’s nativity stories tend to emphasize the divinity of Jesus, his status as Messiah. But now in this story of Luke’s we see human Mary and human Jesus even as his divinity is not ignored.  It’s the only story in the gospels of Jesus “missing years”, the time between infancy and adulthood and it’s an interesting story.

It’s a familiar story and so it’s tempting to think we know it and then not to spend time with it, but it’s an interesting story and I would like to spend sometime with it.

Often when we think of this story or look at paintings of it,the implication is that somehow Mary and Joseph were slacker parents who manage to lose Jesus. We think- How can you lose the Messiah? It seems incredibly careless. But that’s not what the text tells us. Mary and Joseph think Jesus is with some other people. They were traveling in a group, it was safer that way.  I can imagine a group of 12 year old boys not wanting to walk along with their parents. LIttle kids travel with mommy and daddy, not 12 year olds. I can imagine parents telling their boys, “you can travel together but you have to stay together and don’t wander off by yourself.” That’s not in the text, but as a parent, I can imagine it and it makes some sense as to why Jesus wasn’t with his parents.

What the text does tell us is that Jesus stayed behind. They didn’t leave him, they didn’t forget him, he stayed. Cause at 12, you know, you’re capable of making those decisions because you know more than your parents. Mary and Joseph must have been beside themselves. They search the city for three days. Sometimes commentators are hard on them for taking so long to find Jesus. But honestly, if you were looking for a small town 12 year old boy who stayed behind in the big city, would church be the first place you looked? Probably wouldn’t be the first place I looked. But finally they find him. In all places, the temple.

Again, often our imaginations and paintings of the scene have the boy Jesus speaking, surrounded by his elders, the center of their attention. Boy Jesus teaching the religious elders. This is not what the text tells us. Jesus was sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. He was learning, not teaching. He was evidently, shall we say, bright for his age, but he was still a student.

His parents see this and are amazed at Jesus’ ability to interact with the teachers in the Temple. Perhaps you can recall a child or sibling, or even a parent when you saw them in a completely unexpected role? Your little sister stepping into a tense situation and diffusing it. Your child expertly fielding questions at an academic competition. Your kid brother acting with unexpected compassionate toward another. We’re taken aback, astonished. Our perception of our sibling or child sifts, grows. We need to process this new reality. We may need to ponder and to treasure it as Mary does when they find Jesus.

And then Mary speaks, like any parent in this situation would, “What, what are you doing! We were worried sick!” And Jesus, like any teenager, clueless, maybe a little smart mouth, responds, “What??, I’m fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” It’s such a human interaction.

These are Jesus first words in Luke’s gospel, We do well to give them some important. We need to consider what Luke is trying to tell us by having these words be Jesus first words.

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” That’s what Jesus says.  Your favorite Bible translation might say something a little different. It might say, About my father’s business or about my father’s interests. The Greek is vague. Actually the noun “house” is missing.  The hearer has to fill in the noun.

We say similar things. Yesterday I was at my Dad’s. Because you know the speaker, and the context, you can fill in the noun. I was at my Dad’s house, Dad’s work, Dad’s boat. So which is it? House, business, interests? For us house, business, interests are different, distinct things.

In first century Rome, house, business and interests were related concepts. Households were places, locations, and they implied family relationships and a home. But households were also economic units in society, Households were places of a father’s authority. Fathers in first century had significant authority over their families.  Households were regarded as the building block of society. The Roman emperor talked about himself as the father of the nation. Issues of power and authority are part of these words.

Jesus claim that he must be in/about his father’s house/business/interests is a big claim. It is a big statement about who Jesus is. He is making a relationship claim and a claim of authority.

Jesus, in this story, is figuring out or knows or suspects something about his relationship to God, the Father. The Bible doesn’t spell it out for us. Scholars debate about what Jesus knew and when. But these verses tell us Jesus knows something. He knows he “must be about” it. But he does go home with his parents and is, we are told, obedient to them.  Jesus at 12 is at the age the people begin thinking about who they are in relation to their parents, and society. People begin thinking about their future. People begin to feel the pull of being not a child and not yet an adult. Jesus, a human boy, is right on time with this task. And the reader wonders, what is this “thing” that Jesus must be about?

The text gives us a clues. Jesus first words happen in the temple. We know the father he is talking about is not Joseph.  This is not about following in Joseph’s footsteps. There is in this story, the beginning of a shift of allegiance, from father Joseph to Father God. This household of the father, his business, his interest is divine work.

This text is bracketed by statements about Jesus growing in wisdom and divine favor. The repetition tells us, it is important. And it’s bracketing of this story gives us a clue about what Luke wants us to notice about this story, in between the brackets. This business of the father involves Wisdom. Jesus is growing in wisdom.

Wisdom is not something most Christians spend a lot of time thinking about, even though it is a topic we encounter throughout the Bible.  Like other theological concepts, wisdom is complex. There is not a single sentence simple definition.

Wisdom is presented in a variety of ways in scripture. Sometimes wisdom is portrayed as feminine – Lady Wisdom in Proverbs for example. In Proverbs, Wisdom speaks and tells us about herself.  That she is the first thing God created. Wisdom says she was present with God at the beginning of creation.

Wisdom is presented at a gift. Solomon asks God for wisdom and it is given to him.

Wisdom is described as knowledge or understanding that is passed on. As in what we call the Wisdom books of the Bible, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

The synoptic gospels present Jesus as a wisdom teacher, a Rabbi. His sayings and parables are in the style of wisdom teachers.

Paul has quite a bit to say about wisdom. He contrasts the wisdom of the world with the foolishness of the cross. He says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. But Paul also points out that God’s wisdom is not like the world’s wisdom. God’s wisdom looks like foolishness to the world. God’s wisdom is found in the powerless, the foolish.

As Christians, a significant part of our lives as Christians is to become Christ like. We put on Christ in our baptism.  Paul repeatedly tells us To take on the mind of Christ, to mature in Christ. To become Christlike. Jesus tells his disciple to follow him. People are invited to come and see. See what Jesus does and do likewise.

The story of Jesus in the Temple tells us I think, that growing in wisdom is part of this. Following Jesus involves growing in wisdom.

How do we grow wise in Christ? How do we take part in Christ’s wisdom? There are, I think, many ways. Just as there is not one simple definition of wisdom, there is not one path to wisdom.

We do this in personal and private times of prayer and contemplation and study. And we do this together, as a community, as the body of Christ- in worship, the sacraments, communal prayer and communal study.

The church is the main place we learn and grow in wisdom. Even though it can be a frustrating place. Maybe when the church is frustrating, we have the best opportunity to grow in wisdom. If we are willing. The church is the only place we can learn to be Christian and grow in Christian wisdom.

The Bible is another thing we have to help us, When we study, ask questions, wrestle with difficult and contradictory verses, just like Jesus did in the Temple, we will grow in wisdom. This book is not so much a book of rules, a how to manuel; as it is an aid, a way, a path, sometimes difficult, and contrary to growing in wisdom.

The frustrating thing about wisdom is that we are never done becoming wise. Oh some of us think we are wise. But if you have ever known a truly wise person, they didn’t consider themselves wise. They know they have more to learn. We’re never finished growing in faith, love, and wisdom.

What does Christ like wisdom look like?

Growing wise in Christ means seeing the world through Jesus’ eyes. Through God’s eyes. Which means being able to distance ourselves from the prevailing norms and rules and expectations. Christ like wisdom causes us to act and live differently.

Paul over and over again encourages the early Christians, and us, to live with a different set of values. In Colossians Paul tells us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love. Over and over again in Paul’s letters he encourages and even pleads with us to live according to a different set of values from the world.

Jesus tells and shows us.  Walk the second mile, Turn the other check. Love both friend and enemy. Feed the hungry, heal the sick. Include people who are ignored or forgotten or despised.

You remind each other and encourage each other to live out this Jesus wisdom in the charge each week.

We are called, in author and activist Shane Claiborne’s words, to be a peculiar people. A peculiar people who must be about their father’s business, their father’s interests. Living as if the world is in fact their father’s house. Living in the world as if God’s kingdom has come, living in and acting out God’s will to be done on earth, right here, as it is already in heaven.

This is where it gets difficult for us, I have conversations with people who insist, or hope that the gospel is not political.  And that their faith can be private. But friends the gospel, while not partisan is political. Because it has to do with how we live together locally and globally. And the gospel while it must be personal cannot be private. The gospel calls us out of our private lives and into the world around us.

As we grow in Christ’s wisdom, as we learn to see the world through God’s eyes, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain silent about injustice. It becomes more difficult to keep one’s faith private. Ironically the more personal your relationship with Jesus, the less you can be private about what Christ calls you to do.

This is difficult stuff though. And that’s why we need wisdom both as individuals and as the church.

The Bible is clear that we are to extend hospitality to strangers. To welcome the stranger. But what does that look like in today’s world of refugees? And in a world where we fear terrorism?

The Bible is clear that we are to feed the hungry. How best do we do that? Does that also mean working to create a society where no one is hungry?

Jesus healed the sick. I think we can assume that people’s health matters to him. How do we care for the sick?

The prophets tell us of God’s vision for the world of safety, and security. A world where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Where weapons are turned into farming tools. How do we make the world safe for everyone?

God’s vision is everyone having enough, their own vine and fig tree as the prophet says.  How much is enough? How does this happen in a world of extreme income inequality?

From the creation of the world we humans were charged to care for the world around us. How does this happen in the era of climate change?

Scripture is clear, and yet- as they say -the devil’s in the details. How do we do this? There is certainly no consensus, even among Christians. I suspect even within this sanctuary we won’t be of one mind.

And so wisdom. We need wisdom. We need to grow in wisdom. Wisdom to find our way. WIsdom to find God’s way forward. Wisdom to talk seriously about our different thoughts and ideas. Wisdom to keep talking with each other. Wisdom to keep praying with and for each other. WIsdom to persevere in Christ’s way of love. It is not easy work.

May the God of grace and glory, as the old hymn says, grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.   Amen.


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