Jeremiah 31:7-14; Luke 2:41-52
January 4, 2015
The New Testament Gospels are not biographies in the sense of recounting the whole life of Jesus. They focus on his three years of redemptive ministry. Only Matthew and Luke say anything about his birth, and only Luke reports the one growing up story as a 12 year old in the Temple. A couple of centuries after the time of the Apostles as the Gospel spread into pagan cultures, imaginary legends of Jesus’ childhood were invented that made him seem more like the pagan gods they were used to. They had powers something like those Elsa can’t control in the movie Frozen. The so-called Gospel of Thomas (that is neither a Gospel nor by Thomas) is the best known collection of these legends. A boy bumped Jesus from behind and fell down dead. Another boy fell from the roof where they were playing and died. Jesus jumped down to bring him back to life and say that Jesus didn’t push him. Perhaps best known is young Jesus making birds out of mud by a stream that came to life when he breathed on them.
By comparison, the account of 12 year old Jesus in the Temple from Luke 2:41-52 is quite ordinary. Rather than fanciful tales of Jesus’ power, Luke tells us that when we recognize God incognito in the ordinary 12 year old Jesus, we join him as siblings in our Father’s house.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.
43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming 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. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
48When 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.”
49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
50But they did not understand what he said to them.51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Luke doesn’t say how the relatives and friends responded when Joseph and Mary came looking for Jesus a whole day’s journey out from Jerusalem, but I imagine them thinking, “They have their hands full with that boy.”
Luke did say those who heard him in the Temple were amazed at his understanding and answers, but gave no hint they recognized God incognito among them. (v. 47)
Luke does show us Jesus’ parents, especially his mother, wrestling with what it means to raise a son who is God incognito, with whom they are siblings in their Father’s house.
Matthew and Luke are clear that Joseph and Mary knew the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ virgin birth, but that does not mean they understood it. Orthodox nativity icons show Joseph distant from Mary being tempted to doubt and Mary praying for him to have strong faith.
Both Joseph and Mary were visited by the Angel Gabriel at the time of Jesus’ conception. Mary had received a prophetic word from Elizabeth before Jesus was born, and both Joseph and Mary heard the prophetic words of Anna and Simeon when 40 day old Jesus was dedicated. Since Jesus’ birth Joseph and Mary had an ordinary family life, which this event caused them reexamine.
When Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents, Mary treasured these things in her heart (v. 51) along with the visit of the shepherds (v. 19) where she also treasured the angelic and prophetic words spoken about Jesus. I’m sure she pondered them when she stood at the cross in John 19:25 and prayed with the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection in Acts 1:14. Not understanding 12 year old Jesus’ words about being in his Father’s house was not a failure of faith but trying to make sense of all she treasured in her heart.
At the end of the infancy narrative, Luke wrote, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (v. 40) As an infant in the manger, Jesus was not consciously aware of his unique divine and human nature. Luke shows that Jesus at 12 he was becoming aware of being God incognito who would bring many siblings into his Father’s house. Luke suggests that awareness kept growing when he wrote that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.” (v. 52)
The voice of the Father and the coming of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism confirmed this as he began his ministry.
Despite some pious art, at 12 Jesus was not teaching in the Temple. He was listening and asking questions. The amazement of those who heard him was at how well he entered into the rabbinic model of answering questions with deeper questions. Jesus was learning and growing.
When Jesus said, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49) he was an ordinary 12 year old oblivious to his parents’ anxiety, and at the same time affirming his awareness of his relationship with God.
How can we in the 21st century recognize God incognito in Jesus as his siblings in our Father’s house?
As we meet Jesus in the Gospels, we can easily be amazed at his miraculous power and think of him as the big brother who gets our Father to indulge us.
But as we ponder more deeply God incognito hidden in the ordinariness of Jesus, we will necessarily puzzle and wrestle with the implications of the creator of the universe entering our entirely ordinary lives in Jesus.“In my Father’s house” is broad and sometimes translated “about my Father’s business.” By being about our Father’s business as the obvious, consuming reality of our lives and recognizing God incognito in our elder brother Jesus, we affirm that we are Jesus’ siblings, comfortable at home with him in our Father’s house.