a sermon for the 2nd Sunday After Christmas
When Jesus was twelve years old, he joined the Family business.
When I was eight years old, I joined the Cub Scouts (Pack 4, Jacksonville, Florida). One of the first things that a Cub Scout has to do is get a uniform and in those days uniforms cost ten dollars. So my dad offered me a job to pay for it – I could work in the family grocery store on Friday afternoons and Saturdays and he would pay me: TEN CENTS AN HOUR! That’s when I started in the family business, sweeping floors, bagging groceries, putting stock on the shelves. After a few years, I learned how to ring up a sale. In the summers, I would go with him to the farmer’s market and pick out produce and to the warehouse to order more canned and dry goods. I worked pretty much every week in the store through high school. And during that time, I learned about about who he was and who I was along the way.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus becomes part of the family business. We hear a story about Jesus as a 12 year old boy – not yet a teenager, but yet certainly not a child. He’s what we might call today a “tween”. His parents, Mary and Joseph, were devout Jews who took the family to Jerusalem for Passover every year. This year, as they were coming back, they realized that they hadn’t seen him for a while. And so they did what any parent would do; they began to search for him. Meanwhile, Jesus was back at the temple, asking questions and listening to the rabbis. The elders were amazed at his maturity. But after three days, when his parents finally find him, Mary does what any mother of a twelve year old boy would do. She starts to scold him.
About a thousand years ago one of the great teachers of the church, Anselm of Canterbury, wrote a book called “Faith Seeking Understanding.”* According to Anselm, faith comes first – it is a gift from God, the spark that leads us to a deeper knowledge and love of God. Questions about God and God’s work in the world, as described in the scriptures, are therefore an essential part of our faith journey.
Jesus was raised in a religious household; his parents followed all of the teachings of Jewish Law. And yet he didn’t blindly follow the rules. He asked questions, seeking to understand the deeper meaning of the scriptures. He asked questions, just as all of us have, seeking to understand who God is and what it means to be a child of God.
So what does this mean for us? What does a story about a twelve year old Jesus teach us about our own journeys of faith? This is where Mary come in – Mary, who says, “Your father and I have been searching franticly for you.” Jesus listened, and gently responded:
Why have you been searching for me?
Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Now before I go any further, I need to point out that “house” is only one way to translate this word. Other versions of the bible use words like “affairs” or “business.” So while it would be reasonable for Jesus to have said that he would be in the temple, in “God’s house,” it’s just as likely that he was telling Mary that he would be tending to God’s affairs, to God’s business.
All of this leads us to a deeper understanding of Christ. Because the fact of the matter is that like Mary, all of us are searching – searching for meaning, searching for understanding, searching to discover who and whose we are.
But Jesus knows that the object of our search is a deeper understanding of God. He always points beyond himself to God. He knew that as a child of God, he was called to carry out his father’s business of redemption. And he taught that as children of God, we are called to do the same. Through our baptisms, we are all invited to work in God’s family business. We become part of God’s plan to save the world – to reconcile all people and all things to God, through Christ. We become that we become part of God’s action in the world, agents to bring about the kingdom of God.
Jesus entered the temple, God’s physical house, when he was twelve years old. By asking questions and listening, he learned who and whose he was. He began to tend to God’s spiritual business. This is when Jesus began his own journey of faith, a journey that would ultimately lead him to sacrifice his life for the sake of us all.
Through our baptisms, we began our own spiritual journeys. Through Christ, as we continue asking the questions, studying the scriptures, we also grow in divine and human favor and we become part of God’s family business of sacrificial love for our neighbors here on earth.
Thanks be to God.
*Apparently, according to this essay, this was only the working title of his book, which was formally titled Proslogium.