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 travellers, 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 favour.
This story concludes Luke’s account of Jesus birth. He follows the Greco-Roman literary style which ensures that the heroic adult has an equally heroic childhood. In telling this story of Jesus in the Temple, Luke emphasises Jesus’ grace and wisdom, themes which run through all of Luke’s birth narratives. In using this literary device Luke may have wished his readers to focus on the divinity of Jesus, however I suspect that many 21st Century readers understand this story as highlighting the humanity of Jesus.
‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’ declares Mary, in the Life of Brian and that may be our first thought on reading this story. The anguish experienced by Mary and Joseph as they search for their son manifests itself as anger when Jesus is found, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ If we have ever had an experience of ‘losing’ a child, even if just for a few minutes, then we can readily identify with Mary’s words, we have had her experience of anxiety for Jesus’ welfare, guilt at not realising he was missing, relief at finding him safe and well and that coming together in anger towards the disobedient child.
And what of Jesus, those who heard him were amazed at understanding and his answers but do we see him in this story as some kind of child genius or a self absorbed teenager, doing what he wants to do and seemingly unaware of the consequences of his actions and the impact it has on others?
The family return home and we are told Jesus was obedient to his parents and he grew in wisdom, gaining favour with God and with people. Jesus grows up, matures, just as all teenagers do, and gains experience to help him continue life as an adult.
Gracious God, we pray for families, especially during this Christmas season. For those who struggle to find ways of communicating with one another; where illness or anxiety dominate their experience of family life; where poverty is a daily reality and providing food, heat and clothing is a major challenge; may we reach out in love to those we know who are in need, enabling them to experience family as a place of wellbeing and security, as a place which reflects your love for us. Amen
The Rev’d Lindsey Sanderson is minister of the East Kilbride and Hamilton Joint Pastorate and Scottish College Tutor.