We don't have many stories about Jesus between the ages of two and when He began His earthly ministry. Ok, we have one. If one is a Biblical scholar, however, there are a few extra-Biblical gospels, aprocrypha, they're called. There's the 'infancy gospel of Thomas', which is simply a compilation of supposed sayings of Jesus, with no narrative. Also the 'infancy gospel of James', the history of Joseph the Carpenter, and the 'infancy gospel of psuedo-Matthew.' There are good reasons none of these are included of the canon of scripture, but they have some interesting stories, most of which even sound authentic. There are some that seem somewhat fancical, though, and seemingly have no understandable motive on Jesus' part, and little bearing on the essential gospel. One must always ask, in reading such things, whether an act or saying is aligned with the accepted gospels, what we know to be...well, gospel about them. Some other time I might share some of those fascinating stories, but today is not the day.
Today my aim is to talk about kids, a particular pre-teen who didn't act as might have been expected, certainly not as his parents expected. Because there's only this single story, it's well worth paying attention to. I've learned a few things about studying, especially the study of the written word (having both a degree in literature, and one in Biblical studies). If something is mentioned only once, it stands out, and one should pay special attention to it.. And if something--a phrase or idea--is repeated, it is also important. Worth paying attention to. When it comes right down to it (given my view of the Word!), the only words not worth intentional contemplation are articles--words like, the and and!
Now, I've had three kids survive adolescence (wow, are they really, finally past it?), and I've survived it myself. Been a Young Life leader and a church youth group leader. I'd say teens are truly my people group. I just told my sister and brother-in-law tonight that I sometimes almost wished to have started my parenting when they were twelve. It was the beginning of the best time with my kids...(Ok, I know I'm strange!). And what I've gleaned over the years is that though this age is wonderful and amazing--how they communicate with their hearts on their sleeves, how everything is so big and weighty--humans tend toward acute selfishness at twelve. We suddenly realize our parents didn't set the earth spinning on its axis. That, in fact, they don't know much...or as the Beve would say, 'they don't know squat!' Those people who used to hold us on their laps and make us feel safe, are (at least much of the time) are actually unbelievably stupid, eye-rolling, "Oh Mom, really!" stupid! We know it all and they know nothing. And all this knowing is housed within insecure, uncertain us! If we don't know who we are as teens, it's dang well certain our parents don't know us!
The twelve year old Jesus shared some traits in common with all other teens. After a family trip to the big city, his parents (and younger siblings) began the long walk home. The first morning, Mom and Dad didn't think anything about the absence of Jesus. It was quite a large caravan, after all. He'd probably run ahead with other hormone-powered boys his own age. Surely, given his hollow-leg appetite, he'd wander back when he got hungry. By dinner time (just cold sandwiches packed on the family donkey, that donkey who'd see a thing or two in his life!) there was still no sign of this family's oldest child. Mary, a typical mother, used to treasuring this son as the light of her life, was a little worried by then. Her husband, Joe, calmly told her one of their neighbors had surely fed the boy. He wasn't likely to go to bed hungry, now was he. After all, Joe told Mary, Jesus was an extraordinarily obedient son. He'd be back soon enough.
Well, one day turned into two, and by the third, even Joe was frantic, had sent the younger kids running to the front of the caravan and back, yelling big brother's name at the top of their lungs. He'd scoured the countryside as well, while Mary wrung her hands and prayed. Joe knew--he was well-traveled, you know!--that boys are far more likely to race ahead, than want hang with the stragglers at the end of the dusty line. When Jesus was nowhere to be found, Mary and Joseph decided to return to the city, unsure of what they'd find.
What they found was a large group of learned men, sitting in a circle around their son. Mouths hanging open by the hinges, these men kept asking harder and harder questions. They were stunned at the clarity with which this twelve-year-old spoke. The insight into God they, grown men, had spent a lifetime trying to understand.
This sight, of course, made Joseph mad. Mary cried. You know how it is--the stomach-clenching anxiety, which when relieved, turns into face-coloring anger. I know the feeling that something terrible obviously happened to my child, and the comprehension that they've only lost track of time. Fear turns quickly into fury because of what this child has put us through.
They take Jesus aside to give him an earful. This might have been the first time he'd done such a thing, but what a doozy!
"I don't get it," their son tells them. "I can't believe you didn't know where I was. Of course I was in my father's house."
This took the wind out of their sails. Especially old Joe's. In one sentence, he'd been reminded who exactly this son was that he'd been raising as his own. "My father's house," Jesus told them. It's the first time the gospels record that Jesus knew who He was. He understood--far better than his earthly parents--who had begotten Him. These words of Jesus cast us ahead in the narrative, to Him saying, "I come to do my Father's will, not my own." I am here at His bidding. The very opposite of a typical teen, who doesn't quite know whether they're human or beast, don't have a clue about their purpose on earth (apart from making their parents crazy, and teasing to distraction their younger siblings). Jesus knew at twelve. We think that He began His public ministry at the age of 30. It's a reasonable assumption. But what if this one story implies that He began it far sooner? Began at twelve to speak to all and sundry about God. If His birth-day caused angels to shout, if one of God's heavenly creatures proclaimed His birth, both before and during it, then it's not a stretch for me to think Jesus couldn't help talking about what He'd seen and heard. He had a direct line to God, He tells us later.
And it's also true, that the Word He spoke to His parents speak to us as well. Don't we know that He is always about the Father's business? Despite our misgivings, our lack of understanding, He is, even as I write this, in His Father's house, interceding on our behalf. Always, always about the Father's business in our lives. Maybe we search too hard. Maybe we run ahead and look for Him in all the wrong places. Get worried, even frantic, about His seeming absence with us. But fear not, I think. He hasn't walked away from us. Let's stop overturning rocks, hunting in caves in our anxiety, and trust that He knows, and is, exactly where He should be, Immanuel--God with us.