This is one of the transcripts from the teaching videos I’m doing each Sunday. This one is based on Luke 2:41-52 and owes a lot to N.T. Wright’s interpretation in his “Luke for Everyone” commentary.
Growing up, I lived on a small country back-road. If you ever drove down it, you might even think it was a back-road off of a back-road. In many ways, my life was something like that of an earlier time. On one side of our property you had my great Aunt and Uncle, the Fitzgeralds, across the street were the Sisks, and on the other side you had the old Reich place. Behind our house there was a little branch called Jackson Creek, and just across our pasture were the Potato Hills. There were so many times when I’d leave the house in the morning and tell my mom goodbye. She would just wave and say, “Make sure you’re home before dark!” We knew everyone up and down that little back-road, so she wasn’t worried. Besides, if I got in trouble, she would know before I got back home!
My kids will grow up in a different world. Even if we lived in that same place, I think I’d be a little more cautious about letting my kids run wild. There’s no way we’re going to let our kids leave the house and not know where they are all day long!
Today’s scripture passage takes place in a world much more like the world I was raised in. Luke tells us that Jesus’ family lived in a tiny village called Nazareth. Everything we know about Nazareth from sources outside the bible and archeologists suggest that it couldn’t have been more than about 500 people. Undoubtedly Mary and Joseph would have had extended families and friends throughout the village. It’s no surprise, then, that they could set off with a large group of travelers making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover without keeping a close eye on Jesus.
Yet after a day’s travel, when they looked around to see if Jesus was there, he was nowhere to be found. Jerusalem was a bustling city of around 70,000 people in pretty tight quarters. It was one thing to let a twelve year old boy run free in Nazareth, but the city was full of dark alleys, strange people, soldiers, and traders. You can almost feel Mary and Joseph’s anxiety and urgency when they run back to Jerusalem to search for their son.
I get paranoid if I lose sight of my kids when we’re out shopping even if they’re in the same store that I’m in. But can you imagine realizing you’d left your child in the big city, when you assumed he was traveling back with your family and friends?
So they rushed back to Jerusalem…and notice something interesting…they didn’t find him in the first place they searched. We read that after three days they found him in the temple. Three long days this couple from Nazareth searched Jerusalem: walking the back alleys, asking merchants, calling out his name as they searched. And finally, they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers. Rabbis didn’t stand at the front of the class when they taught. They sat and their students gathered around. It’s important to notice that twelve-year-old Jesus is sitting among the teachers, listening, asking questions, and amazing everyone with his grasp of the faith. Actually, the Greek word used here is existanto, and you could translate the passage literally, he was shocking them with his understanding and answers.
Mary and Joseph were blown away (explagesan), and Mary reacts as any good mother by saying, “You had us scared half to death, how could you do this to us? Your father and I have been searching for you like crazy!!!” But Jesus reminds us of something extremely important with his response when he says, “Why were you searching?? Didn’t you realize I’d be here in my Father’s house?”
This passage is filled with meaning, and to be honest the only way we can wrap our minds and hearts around it is to treasure it in our hearts in the same way Luke tells us Mary did.
I can relate to this story all too well on several different levels. There have been times in my life when I’ve went my own way, assuming Jesus was with me, taking Jesus for granted, and all of a sudden I look around and he’s not where I expected him to be. Again and again, the times that I have decided to strike out on my own and do it my way, I’ve struggled. Like Mary and Joseph, I’ve at least had enough awareness to search for Jesus. But also like them, I’ve often spent three days looking for him where he can’t be found. And Jesus will say to us, “Didn’t you know where to find me? I’m here going about my Father’s business.”
As Christians from the Methodist Tradition we have a strong belief that God has given us a map of where he can be found. We call this map the “means of grace.” These are the means where God promises to meet us: in worship together as the Church, in prayer, in studying Scripture, baptism, Holy Communion, authentic Christian community, visiting the sick, caring for the poor, giving. Are you looking for Jesus? Believe it or not, you can still find him in his Father’s house. I want to invite and challenge you to return to the tried and true places where God has promised to meet his people. Don’t waste your time looking anywhere else, and you’ll find the Jesus you thought you’d lost.