So, what about this single story of Jesus as a 12 year old – the year in which Jewish children assume adult responsibility? It is almost certainly a constructed story – a story designed by Luke to teach us something about Jesus and something about discipleship. Within it both Jesus himself and to a lesser extent Mary are examples for us to follow. This story tells us a great deal about being lost and found; and we too need to lose things in order to find others that may be more important...
As it is Jesus is raised in and by a family that recognizes the call of God and the Jewish law upon their lives. His first recorded words are those of one driven by divine imperative – “I must be in my Father’s house.” Later in the gospel the same imperative shines through; ‘I must proclaim the good news’; ‘I must go to Jerusalem there to suffer and die and be raised on the third day’. We too recognize the call of God on our lives, and the things that we must do.
This is a story of Jesus taking his first independent and adult decisions with respect to his calling and the divine imperative. It shows him initiating steps that will eventually lead him away from his loving, if somewhat bewildered parents and eventually lead to the cross, because he must be about the will of his heavenly Father. This is the first indication that like all of us he owes a double allegiance – to his earthly father Joseph to whom he shows obedience as the law requires, but also to his heavenly father. This sets up a dynamic that applies to us too – yes, obedience to family and cultural norms can be important, but the call of God is greater still.
His mother’s question, ‘why did you do this to us?’ is understandable enough – and could perhaps have been heard right across the Jewish community in the early days of Christianity’s emergence. As more and more Jews embraced a new -found faith in Jesus as Messiah, so their old beliefs were lost to them, and with them often their families and the customs of their childhood. Mary, as at Jesus’s presentation, is described as ‘pondering these things in her heart’ and in this sets an example for us. We may not always understand what is happening in our lives; the changes that sometimes cause us to lose our bearings, but if like Mary we have the wisdom to ponder and pause, we will find new truth and inspiration.
For in reality, Jesus did not ‘get lost’ in the temple. Rather there he began to find himself and his true vocation and identity as Son of God. Mary and Joseph had instilled in him as a child a love of God, a devotion to the temple and the confidence to ask questions. Now he begins to explore what this will mean for his future and the process is one that we follow as disciples. When Jesus called his first disciples, he asked them to leave everything and follow him. They had to lose their lives in order to find them and it is no different for us. We follow the pattern of losing and finding that Jesus himself began as a twelve year old, who lost his family in order to find his path.
We are told that the teachers listening to Jesus were astounded at his understanding and his answers. The same is true today. Many people are impressed by Jesus – by his teaching, his miracles, his peaceable life. But to be admiring or even astounded from a distance does not make a disciple. Disciples are those who are willing to lose much that is valuable, and even life itself, in order to find God and be found by God.
So, the question for us to ponder in these days between Christmas and New Year is ‘what am I willing to lose, to let go of’ in order that I may find what is more precious?’ In these in-between days let’s reflect on our calling and what will help us find and experience that calling. And perhaps we may make some decisions that will enable our faith and witness to grow in the New Year – perhaps to take a short course here at St. Francis college; to focus in a new way on our life of prayer; or commit more deeply to the quest for justice for all. For discontent with the way things are is the first step towards growth; and allowing ourselves to be lost is the first step to being found. So, may we, who at this season gaze in astonishment at the child born in a manger, find courage to heed the voice of Christ calling us into ever deeper discipleship. In the name of Christ. Amen
by Penny Jones, for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, 30 December 2019