Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Boy Jesus in the Temple.

At our Men’s Bible Study on Wednesday, we considered the last section of the second chapter of Luke, which the NIV editors head "The Boy Jesus in the Temple."

41Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." 49"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Luke tells us that every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. My commentators tell me that this is one of the three major feasts that good Jews were to attend, but that, the nation being so dispersed, you could get by with just one, and Passover would be it. They also say that even attendance at Passover could be dealt with summarily: a single day’s attendance at this week long-event would pass, and you need not bring the wife. So this passage speaks again to the devout nature of Jesus’ parents, that they go every year, that they are there the entire week, and that not only the wife but also the kids come along and, as we see, participate. I credit Joseph here, exercising leadership, leaving aside his tools, going beyond mere observance to embracing the holy week completely. We also see that this is not simply a family matter, because the entire community appears to move to Jerusalem from Nazareth. It sounds like a church to me, moving up to Jerusalem for its annual retreat.

The commentators address the misunderstandings between Jesus and his parents and the issues these misunderstandings seem to raise. Were the parents neglectful by not noticing Jesus absence until the end of the first day’s journey back to Nazareth? I would say that looking through the prism of 21st century American parenthood, where the point is to eliminate all risk to our children as they grow up, maybe so. But Carol and I have "lost" children before. We left behind Walter one Sunday when, after church, we and the Dewhursts went to McDonalds. The Dewhursts left the restaurant a little before we did, and when we looked around for Walter we didn’t see him, and we figured he’d gone on with them. But he hadn’t. After going to their house and then our house, finding neither the Dewhursts nor Walter, we went back to McDonald’s. There he was sitting on a table behind the main counter, eating an ice cream cone and being attended by the McDonald’s folks. We had simply missed him. (By the way, he has never forgiven us that, and reminds us about it whenever he can.) I can see "losing" Jesus, as the community of friends and relatives moves back to Nazareth from Jerusalem.

And is a Jesus neglectful of his parents? There would be theological problem here if he is, of course. But it seems to me that he is simply a 12 year old with not much idea of the passage of time and thinking that he was "doing his father’s business" in talking to the teachers at the Temple. So interested is he in what he is learning that he loses himself in the moment. This reminds me of when, after his ministry begins, Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, pleads with Jesus to come to his house and attend to his dying daughter. Off Jesus goes, attended by his disciples and a great number of on lookers. But in the midst of the hurry, Jesus allows himself to be interrupted by the woman with the 12 year long bleeding problem, who, seeking healing, anonymously touches the hem of his robe. Stopping everything to deal with this mere, unclean woman, to the dismay of his disciples, Jairus, and everyone else I'm sure, we find Jesus being Jesus. Schedules, time limits, the sort of structure and limitations that fallen men impose on time don’t mean all that much to Jesus when eternal matters are at stake. ("Take no thought of the morrow . . ." he says elsewhere.)

And what of "his father’s business"? Some commentators state that this indicates Jesus’ growing realization that he is the Son of God. I’m not so sure of that, at least in the way that the commentators seem to mean it. Jesus later tells us to pray "Our father . . . " I would say that he understands what the right relationship is between created man and the Lord God: He is our Father. And I wonder also whether this could be a reference to Joseph here. Joseph made it his business to get his family to Passover, to stay there the entire week, to put the Father’s business before his own. Maybe it’s both, Father as the Lord God, father as Joseph. Maybe for a twelve year old there is a happy confusion between a righteous earthly father and the Lord God. A sobering thought for us earthly fathers.

The last verse in the section is: "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

This is a famous verse for Baptist young people (and probably other young Evangelicals) who grow up in a Sunday School program where memorizing scripture is a big item. Pepe Mesa, who is in our Bible Study and is a Youth for Christ leader, said this verse is also a big one in YFC. He said it describes the sort of balanced life that young people should seek to achieve. It has four parts, as you can see: (1) wisdom; (2) stature, good health, a sound body; (3) favor with God and (4) favor with man. Any one of these, standing alone, is probably unattainable. Education cannot be "wisdom" without the other three. A sound body needs a theology - it is either a Temple, or it is used for self seeking ends. Seeking the favor of God without the other three is probably a vain pursuit. Seeking merely the favor men will probably end in unhappiness. We get the picture.

Our Men’s Bible Study has mainly older men. We are all grown up. How can this passage be more than simply interesting. What does it have to do with us? If you look at that last verse as merely referring to a term that ends when adolescence ends, then I suppose it is not of any direct application. But if it refers to a process that is unbounded by a term of years, then maybe it means quite a bit. We think of of the verse as referring to adolescence, because at 12 years old Jesus appears to be on the threshold of adolescence. But in Jesus time, when a young man turns 13 he becomes a man, adolescence, if there was such a concept in ancient Judaism, is over. That verse, then, may not present a vision for adolescence but a vision for manhood.

And so we left it.

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