HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH
“Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Lk: 2:48
What parent can’t identify with this story?
Today Luke presents a tale of anguish and heartache. A child is missing. The parents can’t find him anywhere. No one has seen him.
Mary and Joseph are overwhelmed with fear and near despair. One translation has them describing their condition as being “half out of their minds.”
Has our son been kidnaped? Has he been hurt? Is he lost?
With everything else tried, they decide there’s only one thing left to do: rush back to Jerusalem to find their son, even though it’ll take a whole day to get there.
Imagine what it would be like if your child was lost, gone, couldn’t be found. Imagine the terror. Imagine all the worst-case-scenarios rushing through your brain as you search relentlessly. Imagine your temptation to blame each other: I thought he was with YOU. Why weren’t YOU looking out for him? Why did YOU let him out of your sight? Why? Why?
Every parent in the world has had a least some experience like this. It’s petrifying.
And then there’s another question: Why would Luke tell us this story? None of the other Gospel writers did. What’s the point?
First, in the ancient world in which Luke was writing, stories like this were common. Their purpose was to express the notion that a great person was assumed to have had a precocious childhood. For example, we are told that Moses advanced beyond all his peers in learning while still a child. It was a type of story told about heroic figures of all sorts. So, being notified in advance, Luke is hoping we’ll pay close attention to the rest of the story – and be dumbfounded, just like the Jewish scholars.
Second, this story had a further purpose of answering curiosity questions like: What was Jesus like as a child? What were his interests? What kind of schooling did he receive?
Third, and most important, though, is another question: What does any of this have to do with Jesus’ role as a healer and a teacher and a prophet and a messiah and a savior?
Luke wanted to show in a dramatic way that, from the very beginning, Jesus was dedicated to the work of his Father, but at the same time was obedient to his parents. Luke balances these two commitments by telling us that, as one translation has it: “Didn’t you know that I had to be here (in the Temple), dealing with the things of my Father?” And then Luke follows this with: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
In other words, as with all teenagers, even the most precocious, a process of maturation must take place before they are ready to tackle their life-long goals. Those years can often be trying for parents, but they are nonetheless blessed and graced.
Luke also wanted to underline three major themes. The first of these is summarized in the word “wonder.”
Notice the crowds in the Temple with the rabbis and scholars. We are told that they are “amazed.” This word in the original Greek means far more than just being impressed. It suggests that the people hearing Jesus teach are “outside of themselves with wonder,” as though they are drawn to something they have never heard or seen before.
Luke is telling us in this early stage of his story: be prepared to be surprised, even astonished at the kind of God Jesus will introduce us to.
A second theme that Luke highlights is restlessness – an impatience that will run through Luke’s entire Gospel. Jesus is obedient, but subversive at the same time. He respects his parents, and yet has a compelling sense of vocation that trumps his family obligations. He presumes to teach long before he has any legal right to do so. It’s almost as though Jesus can’t wait to get on with what is most important: to teach and heal and forgive and give himself totally over to the Father.
Finally, there is the theme of transformation in the story. Transformation, Luke teaches us through this story, is not instantaneous. It may grow slowly. But transformation remains our goal, our promise, our cherished hope.
In the end, then, this story is about us, not just Jesus.
It’s about our need to wonder, to be amazed all over again at the marvels of who Jesus is and can be for our own lives.
It’s about our need to be restless and impatient to know and learn more so that we will not allow ourselves to be lulled into inaction and lethargy.
It’s about our need to be transformed, changed, made new – so that we can steadily grow into following the Jesus who just couldn’t wait to talk to us about his Father, and who restlessly and impatiently wanted to shout from the rooftops about the marvels that we can experience if we will allow that same Father to enter into our deepest, most intimate selves and “dwell among us.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.