Pondering Jesus with Mary–A Sermon on Luke 2:41-52

Preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton on January 3, 2021

When my oldest daughter was 11 or 12 she began to blossom into her own person.  We had tried to steer her towards music, signing her up for piano and flute lessons, but now in addition to her music she began to take an interest in softball and volleyball.  This was particularly surprising because sports were not a big thing in our family and so I wondered, “Now where did that come from?”  She also began to develop her own interests, her own sense of humor and even her own sense of style.  She and all her friends were into big hair and lots of makeup.  Sherry and I had spent 10 years encouraging her and helping to shape her identity, but at 11 years she began to shape her own identity and to take it in directions that I had not imagined. 

I watched in wonder and found myself saying: “Who is this girl and where did she come from?  I don’t know, but I kind of like it.”  It was wonderful to watch her become her own unique self, taking what we had given her and transforming it into so much more.  That’s what happens with tweenagers—they stop being your baby and start becoming themselves.

In our scripture lesson this morning Mary has a similar kind of “Ah-ha” moment.  She watches as Jesus begins to blossom, stepping away from his parents and into his calling from God.

Most of what we know about Jesus’ childhood comes from the memories of Mary whom Luke interviewed when writing his book.  It is her testimony that is the basis of the first two chapters of his gospel. Only Mary could tell Luke about the Annunciation.  When the shepherds came to visit the baby in the manger, Mary listened to their story and as Luke says, “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2: 19).” It is from Mary that we learn of Simeon’s prophecies and Anna’s ecstatic praise upon holding the child.  It is also from Mary that we get this account of the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple.

Karoline Lewis, Chair of Biblical Preaching at Luther seminary says this about Mary:

Never underestimate the ponderings of a mother…  Mary is a thoughtful person. Nothing that is happening is getting past her attention. As such, her pondering, her treasuring, her keeping all of the words, should tell us something, something very important about our own responses and reactions to the life of Jesus.

Working Preacher, Keeping Company with Mary , December 23, 2018

With that as background let us turn to the passage before us.  This scripture lesson is a transitional moment in Jesus’ life.  In it we see Jesus as a tweenager navigating the transition from childhood to adulthood.  I. Howard Marshall in his Commentary on Luke, notes

The chief point [of this story] is the disassociation of Jesus from his earthly parents and his attachment to his Heavenly Father.  [Therefore] the story is not basically about a precocious Jesus.  Rather it is a significant step in Jesus’ coming of age.  His first step in spreading his wings.

I. Howard Marshall, NIGTC Commentary on Luke, p. 126, Eerdmans, 1978

Like all such transitional moments it involved growing pains for Jesus and separation anxiety for his mother. 

Jesus was now 12 years old, which means that he was one year away from becoming an adult.  Leon Morris tells us

It was at thirteen years of age that a Jewish boy would become ‘a son of the commandment’ or full member of the synagogue.  The Mishnah provides that a boy should be taken to the Passover in Jerusalem a year or two in advance so that he might be prepared for his bar mitzvah.

Leon Morris, Luke: an Introduction and Commentary, p. 100, IVP 1988

In all likelihood this was not Jesus’ first Passover trip to Jerusalem since Luke points out that “his parents went to Jerusalem every year at Passover (v 41).”  However, I suspect that this year was different.  Perhaps this year, in preparation for his bar mitzvah, Jesus played a greater role in the family’s celebration.  Perhaps he was given the responsibility of choosing the Passover lamb and of presenting it at the temple.  Perhaps also Joseph gave him the opportunity to help lead the Passover Seder where the story of the deliverance from Egypt was recited every year.

The two feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread occupied a total of 7 days, and the pilgrims were required to stay at least two days.  Jesus’ parents piously stayed for the whole seven days. (Marshall, p. 127).

During this time the children would have been permitted to roam around Jerusalem.  Usually the older boys chaperoned the younger ones as they explored the markets and the Temple.  However, this year, Jesus chose to spend his time sitting in Solomon’s portico, a covered porch in the temple, where the rabbis gathered to hold discussions and teach Torah.  Since he was from the small rural community with limited educational opportunities, this would have been like Amy and Andrew having a chance to go to Julliard for a week to take a master class with top-notch teachers.  It would have been the high point of Jesus’ young life. 

At the end of 7 days it was time to head back home.  Nazareth was a three or four-day walk north of Jerusalem.  So in order to keep themselves safe, Joseph and Mary travelled as a group with family and friends.  Leon Morris points out “In a large caravan parents might well not know where a child was. … the women and children went ahead and the men followed with the bigger boys.  [Since Jesus was a tweenager,] Joseph and Mary may have each thought that Jesus was with the other. (p. 101)”

That night they discovered that Jesus wasn’t with them.  Now this was very distressing, but perhaps not as distressing as it would be for us in the 21st century.  In his day, 12-year-old Jesus was almost an adult.  Basically he was capable of taking care of himself.  In our day, you would worry a great deal if your 17-year-old did not come home after spending a night with his friends, but you would not be as nearly terrified as if your 12-year-old son went missing.  Certainly Joseph and Mary were worried but I doubt if they were terrified.  Perhaps they were more irritated and angry than they were afraid.  Jesus’ irresponsibility would cost them a couple extra days to get home without the safety of a caravan.  It also meant Joseph would lose a couple days pay for a couple of extra days. 

After three days they found Jesus.  Leon Morris notes “After three days probably means three days from when they first missed Jesus not that they got back to Jerusalem and had to look for him for three days.”  When they finally found him Mary lost it. “Son, why have you treated us so?” she asked.  “Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” (Luke 2:48)

Anglican pastor Jean Kirkwood comments

Mary challenged him, as any exhausted and fraught mother would: wanting to hug him close and scream at him at the same time. “How could you do this to us?” Jesus, it seems, was unaware of the panic he had caused, and was unapologetic. You can almost hear his ‘tweenage’ voice saying, “Didn’t you know I would be here, in my Father’s house? Why is that not obvious to you?” (from a blog post, “Tweenager Jesus.”)

Jean Kirkwood Narrative Lectionary: the tweenager Jesus (Luke 2:41-52) ‹ RevGalBlogPals ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

It’s at this exasperating point in the story that Jesus stops being Mary and Joseph’s child and starts becoming his own man.  This is a coming of age story.  Like any tweenager, Jesus has to separate from his parents in order to assert his own identity.  Perhaps Mary (like me with my daughter) had an Ah-Ha moment where she said, “Who is this kid?  When did he start thinking for himself? I don’t get it but there’s something bigger here than myself.”

Now I want you to notice three things about Jesus’ reply to Mary.

To begin with, these words are the very first words Jesus speaks in the gospel of Luke.  So far everybody has been talking about Jesus, but Jesus himself has not spoken. Gabriel talked to Mary about Jesus’ conception, other angels shared the good news with the shepherds, the shepherds shared the news with everyone else, and Simeon prophesied about Jesus and his mother Mary. But here for the first time in 2 chapters and 12 years, Jesus finally speaks for himself.  So these words are a key to his identity and self-understanding.  They are a foreshadowing that sets the stage for everything that follows.

Second, the phrase, “I must be in my Father’s house,” speaks of Jesus’ calling.  I. Howard Marshall, notes

The concept of necessity is frequent in Luke and it expresses a sense of divine compulsion, Here the necessity lies in the inherent relationship of Jesus to God which demanded obedience. 

Marshall, p. 128-129

Jesus at age 12 senses that God has laid his hand on him.  He must be in his Father’s house; he must do his Father’s will.  Jesus has an irresistible calling from God.

Third, the phrase, “my Father’s house” speaks of Jesus’ unique relationship to God the Father. Notice the play on words in the conversation between Mary and Jesus.  In verse 48 Mary says “your father (Joseph) and I have been searching for you.”  And in verse 49 Jesus says, “Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house—that is, God’s house.” 

William Barclay says, “See how very gently but very definitely Jesus takes the name father from Joseph and gives it to God (Barclay, Daily Bible on Luke, p. 25).”  Leon Morris, adds

His answer shows that very early Jesus had a clear idea that he stood in a special relationship to God.  The expression my Father is noteworthy and no parallel appears in any other ancient literature of the time. The first recorded words of the Messiah are then a recognition of his unique relationship with God and of the necessity of being in the father’s house.

Morris, p. 101

There is one final thing to notice about Jesus’ words to his mother.  I Howard Marshall says “this was a temporary unveiling of Jesus’ relationship with his Father: it remained a ‘secret epiphany’, a momentary glimpse through a curtain into a private room. (p. 129-130).”  Jesus, you see, had a lot of growing up to do before he could begin his Messianic mission. And so at the end of this story, he returns to Nazareth with his parents, remains obedient to them and there “he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man (v 52).” In other words, he continued to grow up.

The Scripture says, that Mary and Joseph “did not understand the saying which Jesus spoke to them (v 50).”  In this they are no different than any other parents who are mystified by the growth of their children.  I often stand back in awe of my children and marvel at what they have become.  The same was true of Mary, only more so.  The only thing she could do was to “keep all these things in her heart (v 51).” Perhaps we would do well to follow Mary’s example.

Karoline Lewis reminds us that Christmas is a time for reflection. However, with the coming of the New Year it is so easy to get swept up in the busyness and the anxieties in front of us especially in this year of pandemic.  She suggests,

before you go on, before you fill your mind with what is to come, steal a couple of extra moments in the temple, watching, expressly when Jesus isn’t looking, isn’t aware that you are there. [Watch him as he discusses Torah with the rabbis.] Sit beside the manger for a few more minutes, maybe holding a piece of hay or two in your fingers, wondering.  [Go to the temple and listen to the startling words of Simeon, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” Ponder these things in your heart]. Keep company with Mary, just a little longer.

Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, “Keeping Company with Mary,”
December 23, 2018

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