Sermon Ideas For Luke 2:41-52 Part 6
The New Testament strictly limits the glimpses it provides into the youth of Jesus. This scene in Luke of Jesus growing up stands alone, and, in so doing, presents a homiletical challenge. That challenge may be viewed as a choice between seeing this account of the boyhood of Jesus either as a window or as a mirror.
As a window, this passage provides a glimpse of a young Jewish boy in the temple. It gives us a sense of how it was with the young Jesus. He might therefore seem more real to us, as this boy asking questions of and listening to his teachers. Those who remember being in school or being taught will identify with this experience of Jesus.
The life of Jesus is made real to people who visit the Holy Land. Mark Twain describes his experience in Innocents Abroad.
"Nazareth is wonderfully interesting because the town has an air about it of being precisely as Jesus left it, and one finds himself saying, all the time, `The boy Jesus has stood in this doorway—has played in that street—has touched these stones with his hands—has rambled over these chalky hills."1
The theme of Jesus and the teachers was a familiar subject of medieval and renaissance art. Bernardino Luni, in the 16th century, uses the theme to contrast the serene, bright face and colorful dress of Jesus with the drab, gray features and dress of the four teachers that encircle him.2
In addition, this passage has been used as a window into the inner life of Mary as she responds to the divine purpose of her son. The absence of her young son while he was in the temple was one of a series of events in which Mary was required to come to terms with the absence of her son. Understanding her son's absence while he was in the temple would assist her later in understanding his absence when he died upon the cross. The explanation provided for his temple absence, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" could provide leverage for later understanding of his death. His absence in both cases involved obedience to God's plan.
The English poet, John Milton, uses this theme in the second book of his Paradise Regained. Mary uses her memory of the presence of Jesus as a boy in the temple to come to terms with the absence of her son when he dies upon the cross:
"...I lost him, but so found as well I saw. He could not lose himself, but went about His Father's business. What he meant I mused— Since understand; much more his absence now Thus long to some great purpose he obscures."3
To Mary, the absence of her son in his delay in the temple came to signify his presence with God. In this manner she reinterprets the painful absence of the cross. It is a reinterpretation that Christians employ when they use the cross to reinterpret the losses of their own lives. The absence of the cross (and death) is equated with presence with God. With such memories of her child, Mary lives with her grief.
This passage has functioned as a window that allows us to view the boyhood of Jesus and the inner life of Mary. However, the passage may also function, homiletically, as a mirror. As a mirror, the passage provides insight into a spiritual truth concerning Christian wisdom.
Imagine the early church encountering this record of Jesus in the temple. The situation of the early church was the growth of a faith tradition in the towering shadow of the Jewish tradition, particularly the Jewish wisdom tradition. This tradition was respected throughout the Roman Empire. It must have been daunting for the early Christian church to grow up in the shadow of a wisdom tradition that had developed across the ages. Looking at this story of Jesus in the temple must have been, for this early church, like looking at their reflection. The early church could not have helped but see itself and its hopes reflected in this account of the young Jesus in the presence of the Jewish masters. Jesus is seen as one who stands within the tradition of the Jewish masters as he listens to them, absorbing their wisdom. At the same time, with his questions, Jesus reflects a hope that this venerable tradition would, in him and his church, not only be maintained, but also perhaps transcended.
With their numerous images in stained glass and stone carvings, the cathedrals of Europe were encyclopedias of biblical and spiritual truths. A stone carved image appearing on a west facade portal at Chartres cathedral features Mary, a symbol of the church, sitting on the throne of Solomon. The infant Jesus is sitting on Mary's lap. Solomon is the father of Jewish wisdom. Mary symbolizes the church. Jesus signifies the birth of a new, vital tradition within Jewish wisdom.
The church continues a tradition of wisdom. Christian wisdom, like Jesus, sits on Mary's lap who herself sits upon the throne of Solomon. The Christian church today may see in these images, as if in a mirror, the image of its own wisdom, wisdom with ancient roots renewed in the divine purpose of Jesus. In this world, such wisdom will be prized, like "...apples of gold on a setting of silver."4
1. Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, p. 537. 2. Allan Braham, Italian Artists of the Sixteen Century, The National Gallery Schools of Painting, The National Gallery, London in association with William Collins, 1985, Plate 24. 3. John Milton, Paradise Regained, Book Two. 4. Proverbs 25:11 RSV.