My wife and I gave our two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter a simple nativity set for Christmas this year. Our daughter set it up for her not long after Thanksgiving, explaining in a basic way all the individual parts. Within a few days we got a picture of everybody–baby Jesus, his parents, wise men, shepherds, and animals–all in Time Out. As funny as that sounds, perhaps it’s not all that far removed from this week’s Gospel account in Luke. I’ll get to the reason in a moment; first, the familiar story:
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming 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. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When 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.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. –Luke 2:41-52 NRSV
It shouldn’t be that hard to imagine Mary’s tone of voice when she and Joseph finally found him in the Temple, after their no doubt desperate and frantic search: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Luke’s purpose in writing this little account has multiple purposes, not least among them that this child is special indeed and destined for greatness. Notice, however, Jesus’ eventual response: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”
Yes, this child was destined to fulfill his role as “Son of God,” yet he recognized the need to be obedient to his earthly parents. Sure, we can (as scholars have done for a long time) argue about whether this story really happened that way or was a literary device used by Luke to get a big point across. That sort of thing can be useful and helpful and meaningful. But for our purposes here, let’s focus instead on the idea that Jesus grew in wisdom, at least in part because he was obedient to his parents.
Certainly there’s a lot more to growing in wisdom than just being obedient: questioning, doubting, stretching the imagination, pondering new possibilities. Yet obedience is an essential element, too. As we embark on another new year in a few days, that’s probably worth remembering.
Here’s a link to a previous ForeWords blog on this week’s lectionary:
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.</em