Luke 2:41-52

Why Have You Treated Us So?

By Dr. Philip W. McLarty

Our summer series continues with yet another question asked of Jesus: Why have you treated us so?  This time it was Mary who asked the question.

It’s a familiar story, and we’ll get to it in just a moment, but first, here’s what I want you to think about: As often as not, our disappointments and frustrations stem from unrealistic expectations.  We expect others – and that includes God – to act in a certain way and, when they don’t, we get upset.  Knowing this, you can avoid a lot of frustration and anger simply by readjusting your expectations.   You may be expecting too much.  Now, let’s take a closer look at the story.

Luke says Mary and Joseph were on their way to Jerusalem to observe the Passover.  Of course, they took Jesus and his brothers and sisters with them.

What makes this particular pilgrimage unique is that Jesus was twelve years old.  Was he a boy or a man?  There was no period of adolescence back then.  If he was a boy, he’d travel with the women and children.  If he was a man, he’d travel with the men.  This sets the stage for what happened: He went missing on the way back.

At first blush, this makes Joseph and Mary look bad – like the old TV commercial: “Do you know where your children are?”  They traveled a whole day before they realized he wasn’t with them.

How could this happen?  Simple – families traveled together back then, caravan style.  It gave them protection and companionship.  They were able to help each other along the way – sharing meals, tending to each other’s kids, assisting the older folks.  Also, the men and women didn’t necessarily travel together.  The women and children would start out early in the morning walking slowly.  The men would leave later in the day and catch up with them by sunset.

Mary and Joseph weren’t negligent … but they were distraught.  Ever had a child wander off?  It’s a frightening experience.

When our kids were little, we took them to the mall to see all the Christmas stuff.  Our youngest son, Christopher, was four years old.  I wandered into a bookstore with what I thought was Chris by my side.  I looked down only to find somebody else’s child standing beside me.  “Chris?” I called.  No answer.  “Honey, is Chris with you?” I called to Donna behind the stacks.  “I thought he was with you,” she answered.  We panicked.  The mall was packed with shoppers.  She went in one direction, I went in the other.  We looked everywhere.  No sign of Chris.  We met back at the front door of the mall.  I stared out into the darkness.  Suddenly, I got an inspiration.  I bolted across the parking lot, and there I found one small, brave little four-year-old boy clinging to the door handle of the car for dear life.  Donna and John and Patrick were right behind.  We grouped up and stood there hugging each other, laughing and crying for what seemed like an eternity.

Mary and Joseph traveled a full day before realizing that Jesus wasn’t in the caravan.  You’d better believe they spent a sleepless night before heading back to Jerusalem the next day!  When they got back, they combed the city.  They finally found him among the elders in the Temple.

They were both relieved and furious – thankful that he was all right … and mad as a hornet that he’d pulled such a stunt.

“Son, why have you treated us this way?
Behold, your father and I were anxiously looking for you.”
(Luke 2:48)

Out of this experience they learned one of the most important lessons of life – your children are not simply your children, they’re God’s children, and it’s to God to whom they ultimately belong … and to God to whom they owe their ultimate allegiance.

Jesus responded with a simple, but firm reply: “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)  Then he left the elders and went with them back to Nazareth, where Luke says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)

Now, let’s pick up on the subject of expectations.  Up to this point, Mary and Joseph expected Jesus to conform to social convention.  Whether he was regarded as a child or as a man, they expected him to be in his place.  When he failed to meet their expectations – that’s when the trouble began: Why have you treated us so?

You can avoid a lot of frustration and anger by readjusting your expectations … not only with regard to your children, family and friends, but, as importantly, with your relationship to God.

How many times have you thought to yourself, if not said out loud, “God, why have you treated us so? How could you let this happen?”

We’ve given a lot of attention lately to the folks in Joplin, Missouri.  Thanks to you and others like you, the Hope for Joplin campaign was a tremendous success.  All told, we raised almost forty thousand dollars to buy food and sheets and towels for our neighbors up north.

I’m sure the folks in Joplin are thankful.  But don’t you know the question still lingers: “God, why have you treated us so?”

The tornado wiped out a major portion of the city.  Hundreds of families lost everything.  Churches were destroyed.  It’ll take years to recover.  Even sitting here, safe and secure and miles away, we wonder: How could a just and merciful God allow such a thing to happen?

Of course, Joplin is only one example.  Worldwide, we hear of earthquakes and tsunamis and floods that take thousands of lives in a matter of minutes.  On a personal level, we all know of individuals – including innocent children – struck down by cancer and other life-threatening diseases.  What do you make of this?

You might expect bad things to happen if the victims of disaster were living in sin.  “They only got what he deserved,” we’d say.  But we know that’s not the answer.  We all sin and fall short of the righteousness of God.  Those who suffer are no less righteous than those who don’t.

You’d think that, if you live responsibly and play by the rules, you’ll get a fair shake, but that’s not how it works, either.  Accidents, disaster and disease strike indiscriminately.  There’s no rhyme or reason to it.  When they strike, it’s only natural to wonder where God is in all this.  We expect God to do better … and we’re not alone.  Here’s what the psalmist had to say:

In God we have made our boast all day long,
we will give thanks to your name forever…
But now you rejected us, and brought us to dishonor,
and don’t go out with our armies.
You make us turn back from the adversary.
Those who hate us take spoil for themselves.
You have made us like sheep for food,
and have scattered us among the nations….
You make us a reproach to our neighbors,
a scoffing and a derision to those who are around us.
You make us a byword among the nations,
a shaking of the head among the peoples….
Why do you hide your face,
and forget our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust.
Our body clings to the earth.
Rise up to help us.
Redeem us for your loving kindness’ sake.
(Psalms 44:8-14, 24-26)

Kathy just started a book entitled, When God Doesn’t Make Sense, by Dr. James Dobson.  It raises the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people?  It’s one of the great mysteries of life.

The answer is not to try to explain it, but to readjust your expectations.  If you expect God to play favorites and grant you immunity from suffering and loss, you’re going to be disappointed and angry.  Only as you’re willing to let God be God and accept the fact that life runs its own course, will you ever be confident in knowing that God will give you the grace you need to live a full and abundant life, regardless of the circumstances.  The historic liturgy says it best:

“In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us – we are not alone.”

As for explaining why bad things happen to good people, I like what Larry Lawrence said.  Someone asked him how he felt about having cancer, and he replied, “Why should I be any different?”

Personally, it gives me great comfort to know that God is in charge, not me … or you … or the government … or anyone else.  Why, if it were up to us, we’d be up to our ears in alligators in a heartbeat.  We’d be like the people of Hydropolis in the story of the rainmaker.  Do you know the story?  Here’s the short version:

Rolf Svenson was an inventor.  At least some said he was.  Others said he was an eccentric old quack.  Regardless, when it went past ninety days without rain, everyone looked to him for help. 

They had to twist his arm, but he consented to making a rainmaker … which, to the naked eye, looked like an old boiler on wheels, with a maze of pipes and valves going every which way and a smokestack at the top.

He wheeled it down to the town square and fired it up.  When it got good and hot, steam started pouring out the smokestack.  A small cloud formed up in the sky.  It grew and grew and got darker and darker until someone saw a flash and heard a clap of thunder.  Sure enough, it began to rain – and not just a drop or two, but a pouring down rain.  The people clapped and danced and got soaking wet. It felt so good, and they were so very happy.

Once the ground was good and wet, old man Svenson shut off the rainmaker and wheeled it back to his barn.  In a few days, people began to ask when he was going to make it rain again.  The town council approached him, and he agreed to do it all over again.  Just like before, it rained and rained, until he shut it down.

The people of Hydropolis loved it.  They now had rain on demand.  The problem was they couldn’t decide how much rain was enough.  Some said the ground was saturated; others said no, they needed more.  They argued; then they fought.  When Svenson got word, he shook his head.  He knew he’d made a mistake.

The city council called a town hall meeting to discuss the issue of rain making.  It turned into a donnybrook.  Everyone shouted and called each other names.  Some wanted to fight.  No one noticed old man Svenson and his crazy rainmaker out on the lawn.  No one saw him light the fire and turn on the valves.  No one saw the steam rising from the smokestack.

No one had any idea … until it was too late.  They saw the flashes of lightning and heard it thunder.  They rushed outside to find the rainmaker running full steam.  Old man Svenson had taken the valves off and thrown them away.  He was nowhere to be found.  He’d simply fired up the machine and walked away, never to return.

Well, it rained and it rained, until the whole countryside flooded.  The town lake filled to overflowing.  Then the dam broke.  The little village was washed away.  And that’s where it got its name.  To this day, when people pass by and see the ruins, they shake their heads and think Hydropolis – city of water.  It reminds them of how foolish we are to think that we can take matters into our own hands, instead of trusting God to order and provide.   

In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes:

“We know that all things work together for good
for those who love God,
to those who are called according to his purpose.
(and that) in all these things,
we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28, 37-39)

This doesn’t explain why bad things happen, nor does it take away the pain of grief and loss, but it does help us see the bigger picture … that God is sovereign over all creation, and that, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has given us all we need for a full and abundant life.

That’s the key – to know in your heart the peace and power of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Once you do, you’ll be able to weather any storm and come through it stronger than ever.  As for Paul, he told the Romans,

“Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering works perseverance;
and perseverance, proven character;
and proven character, hope:
and hope doesn’t disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
(Romans 5:35)

One of the great hymns of the church is, “Be Still My Soul,” by Katherina Van Schnegel.  It’s the first verse I hope you’ll take home with you today.  It goes like this:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Copyright 2011 Philip McLarty.  Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.