Twelve-year-old Jesus Among the Scribes, Albrecht Durer, 1506
LUKE 2:41-51: Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When 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.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
In 2008 the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who was made into a movie. Along with the wonderful animation and great humor, the movie contains several positive lessons about life; lessons about doing the right thing, about courage in the face of adversity, about having the strength to persevere, and about helping your neighbor, no matter how small and insignificant they might be.
But along with all those positive messages, there is one scene that did not give a very positive message. At the very end a little child saves the day, and he does so by saying a very loud and firm “NO” to his domineering, overbearing, and very wrong mother. This mother was a problem in the story, because she was always opposing her son Horton the hero who had heard the Who. The little child was obviously right, and did save the day by saying ‘no’ to his mother. But that did make me wonder what kind of message that sent to the little viewers for whom the movie was made. It was probably not intended to send the wrong message. After all, the rest of the movie was filled with such positive lessons. But that loud NO by one so small, to that very key figure of authority in a child’s life, was a bit troublesome, at least for me. But perhaps my wife is right when she tells me that I read way too much into every movie I see, and I should just lighten up and enjoy the story.
The story of the boy Jesus in the temple contains a bit of conflict between Jesus and his parents. As I was preparing to preach on this text, I was reminded of the disobedience of Horton in Horton Hears a Who. I remember even as a child wondering about the behavior of Jesus in this text. This is the only story we have about Jesus from the time of his birth to time of his ministry, and it contains this apparent disobedience of Jesus. What are we to make of that, especially in light of the Biblical teaching that Jesus was sinless? Aren’t children supposed to obey their parents? Does this story, like Horton Hears a Who, send the wrong message?
First, we might wonder how Mary and Joseph could have left town without checking to see if Jesus was with them. Verse 44 simply says they thought he was with the rest of the group. We might think that is assuming a bit too much about a mere twelve year old, but we must consider the fact that age twelve then was probably like age seventeen now. Today’s seventeen year old is on the verge of adulthood. Graduation from high school is just around the corner, and then it is off to work or college, and either way, it will mean far greater independence. In ancient Israel, there was no public education, and so no high school graduation to mark the beginning of adulthood. You were just a little boy at home, until you were old enough to go to work for someone as an apprentice. That could very well mean leaving home, which was often done by age 13. Girls stayed home little longer, but even they were often engaged to be married by their middle teens. Jesus’ father was a carpenter, and perhaps an independent businessman, and so Jesus may have already been working as Joseph’s apprentice. At age twelve you were on the verge of adulthood, so it is not unreasonable for Mary and Joseph to just assume Jesus was taking care of himself and getting along in the caravan. Only after a day of travel did they realize Jesus wasn’t with them, and they became afraid something may have happened to him. So they hurried back to Jerusalem to look for their son.
Then there is this confrontation in the temple. A relieved, but frustrated Mary says to Jesus after they found him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety?” The printed page does not reveal the tone with which this was said, and it looks to be a fairly mild reprimand, but still, a reprimand. The response of Jesus is polite, but firm. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” It is interesting that both Mary’s reprimand and Jesus’ response refer to the father of Jesus; but they are obviously talking about two different fathers. This leaves Mary and Joseph quite confused. Luke tells us that they did not understand what Jesus was saying to them. (continued…)
PRAYER BASED ON THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT and LUTHER’S CATECHISM EXPLANATION:
O God, you command us to honor our fathers and mothers. May we so fear and love you that we do not despise or anger our parents and others in authority, but respect, obey, love, and serve them, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.