Sermon Ideas For Luke 2:41-52 Part 5
Because Christians instinctively reject any notion that Jesus could possibly have been a child prodigal this Lukan passage usually serves to highlight Jesus, the child prodigy. We focus on the 12-year old who intruded on the elite circle of rabbis and astounded both hearers and participants with his intelligent listening, his probing questions and astute answers. This is not a smart aleck with pretensions of intelligence trying to entangle older and wiser men with trick questions. This is a youngster taking to the treasured dialectical method of learning like a duck takes to water. Our amazement at Jesus' skills and intelligence is considerably tempered by the quick assumption that, of course, he fit right in with the wise elders because he was, after all, Son of God and eternal wisdom incarnated. We quickly pass over the unexcused absence or justify it with Jesus' words, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?" To our thinking, the burden of guilt lies not with the 12-year old but with the frantic parents who lack understanding. Is that fair? How could they know what his Father's business was or where and how it was to be carried out? Should they have understood then when we rarely know God's mysterious workings today?
Likely this was not the first time Jesus asserted his independence. Joseph nor Mary were concerned the first day of the journey home. Like any 12-year old, Jesus roamed around the neighborhood and forgot about supper. He had probably explored Jerusalem, a city huge and exciting compared to tiny Nazareth. Like any normal boy he'd attached himself to friends. But he always came home when it got dark. This time, he's nowhere to be found. The heightening concern that finally turned into fear for Mary and Joseph rested on their experience of Jesus as such a normal boy, no different from his peers. Nothing in his behavior thus far, except for the strange events surrounding his birth and circumcision, had prepared his parents for a boy capable of hobnobbing with the nation's religious think tank. Mary's fiery rebuke reflects a parent's greatest nightmare, that a beloved child could be harmed or dead, and her stunned relief of seeing him in these unexpected surroundings.
The passing comment in verse 51 that Jesus "was obedient to them" afterwards suggests that the Jerusalem episode at least skirted the line of disobedience. Why else is it included in the account? (Ironically, the more we believe in the divine inspiration of scripture, the more puzzling this phrase becomes!) Perceptive Son of God though he might be, respect and consideration for his human parents should have led Jesus to at least pass a word to them that nothing was wrong and he would come home in due time.
Meanwhile sensitive, faithful Mary, the other chief player in this family drama, does what she always did: pondering these strange happenings (Lk 1:29; 2:19). (Joseph, who is surprisingly nonverbal throughout the Gospels, including this temple episode, hereafter for whatever reason appears to be out of the picture entirely.) Mother Mary may have counted herself fortunate that she had escaped the suffering inflicted on those other mothers in Bethlehem whose little boys were killed by Herod's soldiers. She may still be wondering what old Simeon meant when he talked about that sword that supposedly would pierce her soul. She is, I suspect, beginning to understand that children, though a blessing of the Lord, can also be the cause of excruciating emotional suffering. This child, not even a teenager, has already begun to unravel his mother's apron strings.
Because we have no parallel to Jesus, the unique incarnation, it is perhaps easier to identify and side with Mary, the mother whose suffering will only intensify as time goes on. Already here we get a glimpse of the human cost of Christmas. Christmas represents not merely the fulfillment of all those Old Testament promises about the coming Messiah and the actualization of God's indescribable gift, Christmas has a price tag that Mary has to pay. Yes, Messiah came "out of the ivory palaces, into this world of woe." That was indeed a sacrifice. Mary's sacrifice, that sword piercing her soul, is no less agonizing a sacrifice. She is a loving mother whose son must ultimately die—though she does not yet know that—and who can do nothing to prevent that awful happening. That her son is destined to be the Savior of the world will not diminish her sorrow anymore than her son's words about having to be about his Father's business set her mind at ease now.
Mary as a person with feelings tends to be forgotten during Advent except for her obedient reply to Gabriel and her joyous song at Elizabeth's house. She is equally forgotten the rest of the church year—for most Protestants, at least—except momentarily on Good Friday when Jesus links her and John in a new relationship. This week's story strongly suggests she deserves far more recognition and gratitude.