Jesus in the Temple

December 26, 2018
  • WordPress and I are having formatting issues. I’ll try to resolve them, but that might take a little time. I apologize for the goofy formatting. 

Sometimes people ask me what my favorite Bible story is. Usually I tell them it is whatever I am currently studying. Recently I have been reading Luke 2:39-52, the story of young Jesus in the Temple. I’m reading it because it is the lectionary passage for the first Sunday in Christmas and I have the opportunity to preach at a local congregation.  At first glance, it didn’t strike me as a very meaty story. But, as happens with the Bible, there is more here than I first thought.

Here is the passage: 

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.

Here now, is the passage with my comments on the story in italics. Just before this is the story of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the reactions of Simeon and Anna. So far in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is only referred to by name twice. Once when Gabriel tells Mary what to name her child and again when he was circumcised. Every other time he is simply “child”. 

When they [ Mary, Joseph, and Jesus] 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. Luke has been very careful through the entire nativity story to be sure we understand that Joseph and Mary are devout people.  Passover is the festival recalling the Exodus, being freed from slavery in Egypt. It was and is a festival of liberation. Remember that Israel is occupied by the Roman Empire. In those days, an occupied people traveled to their most holy site to celebrate a festival of liberation.

And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. Bar Mitzvah was likely not a ceremony during Jesus time. There doesn’t seem to have been any sort of formal ceremony marking the age of religious responsibility. But at 12 children were considered capable of being observant Jews. Study of Torah probably began at a younger age. While we don’t want to export our ideas about childhood into the text, 12 year olds are 12 year olds- an awkward age, not little kids and yet not fully adults. You know- teenagers.

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. Often when we think about this story, we blame Mary and Joseph for “losing” Jesus and being inattentive.  I can imagine a group of 12-13 year old boys wanting to travel together as a group and not with their parents. Little kids travel with their parents, not 12 year olds. I can imagine parents saying alright, but to stay with the larger group and don’t wander off. The text tells us “Jesus stayed behind” he didn’t get lost. He stayed behind. He made a decision.

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; Three days, poor Mary and Joseph. Can you imagine? Where would you look for him? Where would a 12 year old boy go in the big city of Jerusalem? The temple wouldn’t have been the first place I checked either. But when they find him, his parents see their son differently. Sitting in the temple, he is not their little boy from small town Nazareth.  Have you ever gotten a glimpse of your child, or sibling or parent doing something you normally didn’t see them do? Were you surprised at the new insight into their life and personality? Perhaps you were astonished, like Mary and Joseph, seeing them in a new light. 

Notice that Jesus is listening to the teachers and asking questions. He is not doing the teaching, he is a boy and he is asking questions and learning. 

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. As Christians we believe that Jesus is truly divine and truly human but we often don’t get plain, obvious examples of Jesus’ humanity. But here, Jesus gives such a teenager response to his mother, dismissing her worries. I’m fine. I’m right here. What could go wrong?  These are the first words of Jesus in Luke’s gospel and  Jesus is a classic teenager here.  

Notice that Mary calls him “child”. Did you notice that Mary says “your father and I” and Jesus’ response is “…in my Father’s house”. What’s going on here?  

Why, do you think the writer chose these words to be Jesus’ first words in the gospel? 

Your Bible may say something like, “I must be about my Father’s interests”, or “business” rather than “in my Father’s house”. Interestingly the Greek reads more like “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s”.  The noun is missing. It’s not as odd as it seems. We do similar things. “I was at my Dad’s last weekend.” We know how to fill in the blank from the context. So it is house, business, or interests? In first century Rome these were all sort of the same thing. Households were not simply family homes, a location. And they were not a modern nuclear family, just evoking relationships. To speak of households involved speaking about authority. And there were economic implications as well. Fathers were in charge of households, just as the Emperor was in charge of the Empire. In fact the Emperor was called the Father of the nation. For Jesus to be about his father’s house, business,interests includes relationship, location, and authority. To say”I must be in my Father’s house” is to make a big claim. 

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. “He went down with them” . Do you think they let him out of their sight?  But notice here it is “he went down with them”. Earlier the text says, “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. ” It’s a subtle shift. Instead of the family going and Jesus goes along. now “he” Jesus goes with “them”  Something in the family relationships have shifted. Jesus grew up on this trip. 

 Mary must have had a sense that what had happened in the Temple was significant. She might not have known exactly why. But sometimes you just have an experience and think, “This is important, I’m not sure how, but this is something to remember.” And so you remember it, treasure it.  What do you think she is treasuring? That her boy is growing up? A glimpse into who Jesus will be? 

Notice that the story of Jesus in the temple is bracketed by statements about Jesus growing and gaining wisdom and favor. Also notice that in the first instance  he is”The child” and in the second he is “Jesus”. Again, a subtle shift, but significant. What is Luke telling us?

It’s a funny, interesting story.  What’s most interesting or important in this story to you?

Blessed are…

December 19, 2018

Our blessings are for us to share, not to keep. Abram’s story reminds us that we are blessed to be a blessing. “Bless”, “blessing”, “blessed” have a variety of meanings- all the meanings are related but there are distinctions we need to be mindful of anytime we encounter the idea of blessing.

One of the most famous passages in scripture concerned with blessing is the beatitudes. The beatitudes are the first part of the larger  Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:1-7:27. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12

There is of course, much that can be said about the beatitudes. Entire books have been written about them, innumerable sermons preached about them. Our focus is on what Jesus’ meant when he said “blessed”. Does he mean blessed now or later? Perhaps he means both. “Blessed are” suggests the blessing is now in the present time. But the second part of the sentence, “for they will…” suggests a future result or future expression of the blessing. 

And what sort of blessing is he talking about? The definitions of  a special benefit or gift don’t seem to apply. Happiness, thankfulness, and contentment aren’t what we see as the outcome of poverty and grief and persecution. 

 In the ancient world, just like today, people in the condition of poverty- physical or spiritual, grief, meekness, discontent, mercy, innocence, sincerity and peacemaking are not valued. The beatitudes are not commonly considered a list of conditions to aspire to, to hope for.  Quite the opposite. The poor are blamed for their poverty. The grieved are expected to “get over” their loss promptly. Meekness and mercy are seen as weak. Those who speak out against injustice are ignored. Working for peace is dismissed as naive. And persecution is ignored or mocked, depending on who is being persecuted and who is doing the persecution.          

Then and now, these people listed by Jesus are not the sort of people we expect God to bless. Popular wisdom suggests that these people are obviously not blessed. And yet, Jesus says otherwise. Jesus, and therefore God, say these people are blessed. They are holy, consecrated, sanctified. They are worthy of honor. 

Often we diminish the reality this blessing. We talk of rewards in heaven. Or limit the blessing to a vague sense of God’s care. We remove the blessing from this real world.

What would it mean to believe in this time, today, that the meek and merciful and the mourning are holy? What would it mean to believe that right now, peacemaking is sanctified work as is longing for righteousness? 

And if blessings are to be shared, are we willing to accept poverty? Share in mourning? Give and receive meekness, mercy, sincerity, and all the rest? 

When we spiritualize the future aspect of the beatitudes, we remove ourselves from participation in them. The “for they will…” is assumed to happen in heaven not on earth. But heaven is not the future home of dead people. Heaven is where God now resides and rules.  And our prayer is that God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

If we share and receive these odd blessings, would the future aspect of Jesus saying, “for they will…”, become present reality? If we participate in the beatitudes, see the poor, the grieving, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers as holy, sanctified, blessed, would the world change? Would heaven and earth draw nearer to each other?


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