By Dr. Jeffrey K. London
The modern version of this story (Luke 2:41-52) would have Joseph and Mary being investigated by Child Welfare and landing in front of a judge because they “lost their 12 year old kid.” The media would jump on the story and demand to know how any good parents could travel an entire day’s journey and not know their kid was missing.
Or, the modern version of this story could focus on the divinely delinquent Jesus who decides not so much to run away from home as just not to go home. This modern version would say that 12 year old Jesus simply decided to do his own thing in the big city and never even considered the plight of his parents.
Either way, the modern versions don’t sit nearly as well as the Biblical version we have before us. And just why is that? I think it’s largely because we’ve sweetened and sanitized this story. What the modern versions bring out is the inherent panic, scariness and immediacy that unfolds as two distraught parents discover their son is missing and potentially lost in Jerusalem!
But is that all this story is about?
It’s certainly a story any parent or child can relate to. Kids get lost momentarily all the time at WalMart or at the mall. Some parents even know the horror of kids gone missing for a day or more only to return safely.
But there’s more going on here than meets the eye. You see, Jesus shares focus in this passage with Mary and Joseph. It’s as much about them as it is about Jesus. And here’s why: because Jesus’ actions reflect his upbringing. That’s a big part of the message.
We’re told a number of important things about Jesus’ upbringing. We’re told that his parents went to Jerusalem every year for Passover, traveling about 60 miles each way.
Women were permitted to observe Passover but were not required. Men who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem were required to observe Passover in Jerusalem. But men who lived more than 20 miles away were required to attend Passover in Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime.
So, hear it again, both of Mary and Joseph traveled 60 miles each way to observe Passover in Jerusalem every year! They modeled not minimalism or mediocrity — what’s the least we have to do to remain in God’s good graces — but true faithfulness by choosing to travel to Jerusalem every year for Passover…as a family!
Why? Because it was an important expression of faith, belief, and obedience. It was an important part of what they did as a family. But it didn’t come without hardship. Just think about the fact that this trip lasted about 2 weeks. That’s two weeks of not working in the carpenter shop. That’s two weeks that needed to be saved up for. This annual trip to Jerusalem was a significant commitment of time, money, and energy.
Some would certainly look at this commitment and say, “What an awful inconvenience!” But that’s not how Mary and Joseph saw it. They did it because it was important.
Now Jesus and his family would have traveled with friends and neighbors in a group. The adults would have walked together, men with men, women with women, and the kids would have walked with the kids. Mary and Joseph obviously assumed Jesus was with this group of kids. The story tells us they had traveled a day’s journey before they realized Jesus was missing and once they did, they ran back to Jerusalem, the big city, to find him. It took another day or two of searching before Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple. During that time, Mary’s and Joseph’s nerves must have been quite on edge as their emotions vacillated between absolute terror and “Wait till I get my hands on that boy!”
When they did finally find Jesus in the Temple Mary confronts Jesus and declares, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I were anxiously looking for you” (2:48).
Jesus’ reply, at first hearing, seems to be a little sarcastic. He says, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (about my Father’s things?) (2:49).
To better understand what’s going on here, let’s go back to the larger context and the clues we get regarding how Mary and Joseph raised Jesus. We know they traveled to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. So Jesus would have known his way around town. He’d been there every year since he was born. I think it’s safe to say at this point that Mary’s and Joseph’s faithfulness, their piety, must have extended into all aspects of Jesus life. They were raising him to be a faithful, knowledgeable, independent Jew.
So I don’t think it’s with sarcasm that Jesus says to his parents, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (about my Father’s things?) The young boy Jesus was certainly figuring out who he was, and the Temple that his parents had brought him to many, many times with its share of teachers and leaders, was the perfect place for Jesus to continue in his divinely human development — it was where he needed to be!
But there’s also a sense in which Jesus was saying to Mary and Joseph, “You are responsible for this too. You raised me to be like this, to be faithfully inquisitive. You brought me up to be my own person. I’m simply exercising my maturity at this point.”
This speaks a powerful word to us as families and as a church family. As parents, very early in life we must decide whether we going to raise a child or an adult. Based on the hints we receive regarding Jesus’ upbringing by faithful parents, we can say plainly that Jesus was raised in a household that had high expectations, that taught through parental modeling, and that sought to pass on the faith through a match of words with actions. In other words, Mary and Joseph set about to raise an adult. And one of the results of this upbringing is this story of holy hijinx. I mean, if the worst thing your kid ever did was camp at church for a couple of days — you’d be doing alright.
Our story ends with Jesus returning with Mary and Joseph and being obedient to them while he continued to grow in four distinct areas:
1) He grew in wisdom (which goes beyond the facts to a higher understanding;
2) He grew in stature (connotes physical growth but also spiritual);
3) He grew in divine favor (his relationship to God the Father); and
4) He grew in human favor (involves relationship with other people).
An emphasis on these areas is how we raise adults. We’re constantly raising the bar of expectations if we are out to raise adults. We’re constantly affirming and encouraging while also being staunchly resolute in holding our kids accountable.
Probably the hardest part about raising an adult instead of a child is that with each passing year we have to allow for more independence, we have to trust that we’ve planted good seeds in our children and they will make good decisions, most of the time.
I’ve often met with parents who are going through that stage in life where their kids don’t want to come to church. Sometimes parents will tell their kids that it’s up to them, they are old enough to choose.
Except they’re not.
I mean, as parents, would you make the same offer when it comes to say…geometry? No, of course not, because an education is important. And it is, but that education has no firm foundation apart from the Body of Christ, the Church.
So if you’ve got a kid going through that phase of not wanting to come to church, here’s a little trick that works 100% of the time.
First, don’t argue with the kid. You’re the parent, you’re in charge, step up to the plate. Speak firmly and faithfully to you child and say, “This is what we do as a family.” You may have to say it a dozen times, but after a while the kid catches on.
I want to share with you something I came upon that is as bizarre as it is true. In the 1950’s the FBI, yes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, put out a list entitled, “How to Raise a Delinquent.”
1) Give the child whatever he/she wants, because that makes your life easier.
2) Pride yourself on not prying into your child’s life, his/her friendships, where time is spent, etc.
3) Expect your child to attend church, but don’t bother to go yourself.
4) Threaten punishment, but don’t carry it out.
5) When you do punish, make sure you overdo it.
6) And finally, never, ever admit you were wrong.
This list sort of comes in the side door, but I think it’s message is clear. If we, as parents, are doing any of these things then we’re raising a problem child instead of a faithful adult. And just because some of you may not have children living under your roof doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. As the church, the Body of Christ, The Family of God, we are accountable to one another, we are ALL parents and grandparents to the children in our midst. After all, God not only placed these children in the homes they are found in, but God also placed them among us.
In a very Christian sense, we can say it may take a village to raise a child; but it takes the Church, the Body of Christ, the Family of God, to raise a faithful adult. And as the family of God, we’re all about encouraging growth and asking questions; we’re all about the development of independent thinking and faithful actions.
In the boy Jesus we see faithful growth in wisdom, stature, and divine and human favor due largely to his family upbringing. We want the same for our kids, don’t we? We want to see them grow in wisdom, stature, and divine and human favor. I mean, our kids have been given to us by God for precisely this reason! Right?
The Scriptures say, “Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12)
So may we love our kids, all of our kids, and may we see them as God-given gifts.
May we, through our raising the bar of expectations, show our kids that we are all God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.
May we model the faith for our children by clothing ourselves with “compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance…, and above all love which holds everything together. (Colossians 3:12, 14)
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2012, Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.