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Sermon Ideas For Luke 2:41-52 Part 3

In this passage from Luke's Gospel, we have one of the few canonical stories about Jesus between his birth and his baptism. The drama inherent in the story--a young child in the midst of distinguished teachers, "listening, and asking them questions"; distraught and puzzled parents finding the "lost" child and hearing his explanation; the maturing of the child--has not been ignored by artists. Both Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt Van Rijn explored this story, Rembrandt at least two different times.
In a series of woodcuts entitled The Life of the Virgin, Dürer dedicated one to Christ Disputing with the Doctors. The entire series was executed between 1501/2 and 1504, but not published until 1511. In this woodcut print, we look into a large, formal lecture hall with a raised platform and reading desk on the right, midway on the vertical. We look through a large arch, almost as if we are viewing a staged tableau in a theatre. Jesus, looking more nearly 18 than 12, sits at the desk. There are two groups of "Doctors." one in the upper portion of the print, away from us, and one in the lower portion, nearer us. Some are seated and some stand. Two consult texts, one gestures toward Jesus with a question. At least one seated figure listens intently, while one who stands near Jesus is obviously threatened by the proceedings; in his left hand he clutches a scroll, and under his right arm a large book is held tightly against his body. Just entering the room across from Jesus is Mary and slightly behind her is Joseph. None of the participants in the "disputation" has noticed them as yet.
This presentation is interesting at several points. One, Jesus is much older than the 12 years indicated in the text. The artist has attempted to show the wide range of responses to his presence, from enthrallment to disdain. It is no doubt a correct visual interpretation of one reason the story is included in the gospel; already we have the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities. But we also have the captivated listener and the engaged discussants. We suspect that for some here, Jesus did not increase in favor.
In 1652, Rembrandt did a pen and ink drawing and an etching of this episode. Both are called Jesus as a Twelve-year-old in the Temple. In the drawing, Jesus appears as a youngish 12-year-old, while in the etching he appears older. In the drawing, Mary and Joseph enter from our right and look over a railing into the lecture hall which is on a lower level. From their stances we are aware that they have just come upon the scene and are "astonished." There are few dignitaries involved in the discussion. In the etching, Jesus is surrounded on three sides by the gathered authorities. We, the viewers, are on the fourth side, completing the picture as it were. It is an attempt to visually identify us with those who also are confronted by the new teaching of this remarkable person.
It is interesting to note that none of these three works actually portrays the text with regard to Jesus "listening and asking them questions." As we might assume, Jesus occupies the center of attention, but we might not expect him to be in the position of authority. It is also clear that Jesus is in control of the situation, and the religious authorities, the "doctors," listen and ask questions.
A modern Italian artist has focused on those silent years between the Temple episode and the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Pietro Annigoni painted an altarpiece for a side chapel in the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy. Completed in the early 1970s, prints of the painting were once available from the small shop in the Church, but such is no longer the case. It is a life-size The Workshop of St. Joseph. The setting is an open carpenter's workshop. Jesus is intent on picking up nails off the workbench, while Joseph stands to his side and slightly behind him. Joseph's left hand hovers over the child's head; instructing, or blessing? From the lower left corner of the painting, a wood plank leans on the workbench, but on a diagonal toward the upper right corner. If we follow the line of this plank along the right arm and shoulder of Joseph, it continues as natural light above his head. It is intersected by another irregular shaft of light from upper left toward lower right. This intersection of lines not only serves to frame father and son, but it very gradually enters our consciousness that the cross is present even now. Jesus is not only obedient to his earthly parents, but "obedient even unto death" in relationship with the Divine Parent.
A reproduction of Dürer's woodcut print can be seen in Dürer: The Complete Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts, by Karl-Adolf Knape (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1965). Both the drawing and etching by Rembrandt are reproduced in Hans-Martin Rotermund's Rembrandt's Drawings and Etchings for the Bible, translated by Shierry M. Weber (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969). No published reproduction of the Annigoni has been located. One of the original prints of the painting is in the collection of the University Christian Church, Fort Worth, Texas.
Roger Wedell