Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
January 4, 2009
JESUS THE BOY, THE SON
Text: Luke 2:39-52
Our minds and hearts are hungry for details about Jesus’ growing-up years. What was he like, this holy and human boy? Did he make spit wads in class, did he kiss girls, fight with his siblings, rebel against his parents?
We are given one tantalizing glimpse in the Gospels, Luke’s account of Jesus at twelve. The story gives us an important glimpse into the boyness and sonship of this holy and human child. And it lets us glimpse the holiness and humanness of our own boy and girlness and of our own daughter and sonship with God.
The preface to the story describes how Mary and Joseph raised him in an observant Jewish home, doing “everything required by the law of the Lord.” And Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor [charis, grace] of God was upon him” (Luke 2:39-40).
Now we come to the Passover pilgrimage that Mary and Joseph made when Jesus was twelve, his bar-mitzvah year.
It was a sixty-five-mile trip each way, by foot. It took three days, and practically the whole village packed up and traveled together. When the Passover festival was over they packed up and started home. Jesus missed the departure of the Nazareth contingent.
Mary and Joseph didn’t miss him until nightfall when they stopped for the night. It was like movie Home Alone when the family and all the relatives hustle off to the airport for a Christmas trip to Europe and accidentally leave their young son sleeping in his upstairs cove.
It’s not difficult to see how it would happen: the hubbub of over a million pilgrimagers in Jerusalem, the village traveling together, Mary and Joseph assuming Jesus was playing with friends. A old African proverb goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village to lose one.
When the caravan stopped for the night and Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus, you can imagine their panic. Ever lost a child in a crowd? Ever gotten lost from your parents in a crowd?
So Mary and Joseph no doubt spent a restless night in worry before they could make their return journey to Jerusalem. When they got there they searched the city for him, to no avail. It was not until the next day they found him: in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. The teachers were “amazed,” the text says, by his understanding and answers.
We love this scene. It is always one of the scenes pictured in illustrated Bibles. But the main reason it was remembered and included in the Gospel was because of the dialogue that happened next.
When Mary and Joseph found him you can imagine the great emotion that flooded forth. Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this?!” (Does this sound like a parent?) “Look,” she added, “your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” A good Southern translation would be: “We’ve been worried sick!”
Jesus responded with these memorable words:
Why were you searching for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Or in the translation most of us remember: Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?
Either translation is acceptable, and in fact their meanings merge.
Why were you searching? Where else would I be but in God’s temple? Why were you searching? You know I must be about the work of my heavenly Father.
(Teenagers out there, be warned. If you come home two hours after curfew and meet your parents at the door, they anxious and not happy, Jesus’ line will not work!)
The word “must” is very important. It reflects the divine imperative that Jesus felt even at twelve to be seeking God, learning God, trying to discern and do God’s will.
The story ends with the words, “And he returned to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” And it says that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor,”
These words let us ponder his humanness and holiness. He grew in wisdom, in mind and body, and he grew in the favor or grace of God and in the favor and grace of those around him, that is, grew spiritually and socially. And he never stopped growing all his thirty-three years.
And neither do we who follow his way. Maya Angelou has a response when people come up to her and uninvited announce to her that they are a Christian. “Already?!” she replies.1 It takes all your life to be a Christian.
What does it mean for Jesus to have been holy? In the Bible holy means at least these two things. It means to be “set apart” for some holy purpose, and it means to be inhabited by the holiness of God. We see the holiness in Jesus in at least these two ways.
First, in the intimacy he had with God so that he knew, he knew that he was God’s Beloved. I have called this the “Abba-experience” of Jesus. And in this knowledge Jesus knew God as his Beloved too -- which may be the best way to translate Abba: the Beloved.
In his wonderful book, Life of the Beloved, which he wrote as a letter to a friend in mind, Henri Nouwen writes:
If this is true then our life consists of becoming what we in fact are. To use Nouwen’s words again:
This is the great spiritual journey we all are called to make.
The second way Jesus embodied holiness was his willingness to do whatever he perceived God’s wanting him to do. He did not, could not always know precisely the will of God. He was human after all, as finitely human as we all are. That’s why he spent whole nights in prayer, seeking after the Divine will. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed to be delivered from the terrible death of the cross. “Abba,” he cried, “remove this cup.” He implored after the Divine will, then prayed, “Whatever your will, I will do it,” here his humanness and holiness all one.
The intimate knowledge of being the Beloved and the deep willingness to do whatever he perceived God’s will to be; this is what made Jesus holy -- and what makes us holy.
We now jump eighteen years to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He begins it by submitting to baptism in the Jordan, the baptism of forgiveness of sins offered by John the Baptizer. It demonstrated his solidarity with our frail human flesh and spirit. And it represented his willingness to do everything God wished.
And as he was baptized the Spirit of God descended as a dove -- it would sometimes descend in less gentle ways -- and a Voice said, “You are my Son, the Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”
Here poured out in dramatic measure was what had been leading him and forming him all his life: his Belovedness and his Sonship.
What does his sonship mean? And what can it mean for our own sonship and daughtership? Hebrew scripture points the way. In Isaiah 42 God says:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.
I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
And in Isaiah 61, we read:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good tidings to the afflicted, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
These last words, you know, are the words Jesus chose for his inaugural sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:16ff).
Jesus’ sonship is his servanthood, his Spirit-anointed servanthood to do the holy work of God in the world: healing, justice, liberty.
And so you and I can join in our own sonship and daughtership, filled with the Spirit, in partnership with God, our Beloved. I say this to our eighth graders as they prepare for baptism and to everyone here today. Become what you are, the Beloved, and join in God’s great mission in the world: healing, justice, liberty; and in the great work of God called reconciliation!
Where does it begin? I’ll tell you a rabbinic story, told by Brennan Manning4.
There was once a pious Jewish couple who married in great love but for years and years were unable to have children. After many years of praying and waiting a child came.
His name was Mordecai, a rambunctious boy and full of life. He loved the outdoors, gulping in all that creation had to give.
Then came the time around age twelve when he was supposed to go to the synagogue and begin Torah classes. On the first day of the classes he skipped them. He was found in the woods, swimming in the lake, climbing trees.
By the time he got home the news had spread about his behavior. His parents didn’t know what to do with their unruly son. They tried counseling, behavior modification, psychoanalysis; drugs were not yet available. Nothing helped.
One day a man known as the Great Rabbi came to town. They took their son to him, and the man bellowed out: “Leave the boy with me, and I will have a talking with him.” He was a ferocious lion of a man, and even the parents left their son with a bit of fear in their hearts.
Mordecai stood alone before him. The Great Rabbi said, “Boy, come here!” Trembling, the boy came forward. Then the Great Rabbi picked him up and held him silently against his heart.
Later the parents came to pick Mordecai up. The next day he went to the synagogue to learn the Word of God. And when he was done he went to the woods. And the Word of God became one with the words of the woods. And he went to the lake and the Word of God became one with the words of the lake. And he climbed trees and the Word of God became one with the words of the trees.
Mordecai grew up to become a great man. People came to him for healing and for wisdom. And when they would come he would say:
When did you first hear the heartbeat of God? In your mother’s womb, in the woods, at the seashore, in church, in music, through another’s heart? When did God hold you silently against her Mother-God’s breast?
This is where we’ve all come from, and where we are all headed, if we but listen for the One who has called us here. Our minds grow so noisy, and so then our hearts. But if you grow quiet, you can hear God’s heartbeat, and hear the words: “You are my Beloved, my soul’s delight.”
1Maya Angelou, Letter To My Daughter
2Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved (New York:Crossroad, 1993), p. 26.
3Ibid., p. 39.
4Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child (Colorado Springs, New Press: 1994), pp. 121-123.