Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Do We Do With Jesus In The Temple?

This week's scriptures are 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 and Luke 2:41-52.

The Social Science Commentary that many of us are so fond of reminds us in it's discussion of this passage from Luke that many ancient biographies included the story on an incident from the hero's childhood or youth that 'foreshadowed' what his (or less often, her) adult life was to be like. One can imagine that Luke, writing to a Hellenistic audience, would also utilize this literary technique.

This tradition, at it's worst, produced some horrible accounts of the 'Lives of the Saints' and those little orange biographies in my elementary school library (I read them all). Both presented pictures of individuals who were so perfect, or so gifted, or so 'something' that they were not human. One could only feel vague failure and shame if one compared ones self to them.

This Lukan story is further skewed when it is looked at through a present day lense instead of a historical/social context. One sermon I read was entitled "Jesus, A Normal Teenager." The truth is that there were no 'teenagers' in Jesus day. The age of 12 was a threshold into manhood. From this perspective the story is about Jesus in his new cultural adulthood gaining honor from the wisdom he showed in conversation with the teachers; and marking out his independence from his mother's influence. She addresses him as "child" and he responds from his new role as an adult.

There is another issue that arises. Jesus' parents have come back to find him. They've seperated themselves from the larger family unit they were traveling with, and so now their trip back will be more dangerous. An unspoken question that will hang in the air will be "what's with Joseph, can't he control his family?" And while you and I (looking at it from a distance) may understand the "didn't you know I must be about my Father's business" comment; it must have been not only confusing, but a slap in the face for Joseph.

While I don't think Luke intended this passage as any kind of lesson on parenting, I do think that Joseph earns some 'brownie points' in my book here. While Mary continues to present herself in scripture as having difficulty in letting go: even at one point sending his brothers to bring him home, since obviously he's lost his mind; Joseph once again responds with the least likely response.

Think about it. He finds that Mary's pregnant. He is going to 'divorce her quietly' so that she won't be shamed....that's something in and of itself. Then, when he is told that the child comes from God, he listens and marries Mary anyway. Now, once again, he is faced with a confusing moment. The natural response would be to upbraid Jesus and restore his own status and honor. He doesn't do this. Whatever embarrassment he felt, let let go of for the sake of his 'son-on-loan' and, we can imagine, simply turns and says some version of "well, for now, we need to head for home. Perhaps we can catch up with the others if we move fast for a day or so."

Laying aside ones honor and dignity for the sake of ones child. Does this in any way remind us of what God has done in becoming one of us in Jesus? Does this moment, in some smaller way, reflect God's attitude toward us? An attitude which culminates in the descriptive song recorded in Philippians 2 that "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness."

Joseph did not grasp at his dignity. He did not try to prove that he was in charge. He gave Jesus the freedom to be and become who he was as he moved into his new adulthood. Maybe that's not such a bad parenting lesson after all.

Hope to see you Sunday.

1 comment:

Kara said...

I agree that the cultural context of this story is important. 12-year-olds in our culture and Jesus' begin to assert their independence, but in different ways and with different expectations.
But in both cases it seems to be a challenge for adults know when/how to recognize and honor this.

I always wished there was more information about the kinds of thing they were discussing in the temple.