"When Jesus Came of Age

(a sermon based upon Luke 2:39-52 & 3:21-23

Among the many chapters that speak of Jesus’ life in the four Gospels in our Bible, we have only one small glimpse into Jesus’ childhood. Luke lets us see what Jesus was like at age 12… when he created anxiety for his Mom & Dad by becoming separated from them as they visited the big City of Jerusalem.

Now, before we go into that aspect of Jesus’ lifestory, let’s be honest: what were YOU like when you were twelve? It’s not an easy age… It’s a time of growth spurts, new hormones, a pre-teen’s curiosity, stirrings of adolescent idealism, somewhat self-centered…

What were you like as you came of age? In what ways are you still the same today; and in what ways have you changed? I’ll bet there is a little of Jesus’ thoughtless behavior, as well as some of Mary & Joseph’s anxiety, in each of us. Sometimes our “child” comes out; sometimes we let our “inner parent” take over. In any case, we have (all of us) had to “come of age” at some time or another.

I juxtapose the story of Jesus at age 12 (in what he calls his “Father’s house”) with the one where Jesus is baptized at age 30, and God calls him his “beloved Son.” You’ll notice the parental relationship in both of those statements – one from Jesus about his Father, the other from God about his Son. I think that (taken together), we get a sense of Jesus “coming of age” in relation to God.

In ancient Jewish culture, boys “came of age” at 12 years old. Even today, that is the time for their “bar-mitzvah” (or a girl’s “bat-mitzvah”) the public ceremony that indicates they are now fully part of the “covenant community” – they are no longer children any more… but young adults, responsible for their own future growth.

Luke tells us that Jesus accompanied his family on their pilgrimage south to Jerusalem to attend the Passover holiday. From Nazareth in the Galilee, this would have been a journey of over 60 miles – on foot it might take four or five days each way! For us today, a trip like this would be like going “downstate” for a ball game and shopping, or going out-of-state to visit relatives. For a 12-year-old, a trip like this would be an adventure!

The purpose of the Passover festival was to celebrate the story of God’s liberation of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. (We might think of it like a Fourth of July holiday celebrating America’s Independence.) Every year, the Jewish people would put on parades, special worship services, and hold Seder suppers to re-tell the stories of Moses liberating the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Pharaoh’s cruel slavery in Egypt. They would celebrate the founding of the nation of Israel, the receiving of Torah (the Ten Commandments) from God, and their journey to the Promised Land.

In Jesus’ day, because the Romans now ruled over them, some people in Judea & Jerusalem felt like they were slaves again -- (!) -- slaves of the Roman Empire instead of the Egyptians or Babylonians. The Passover holiday kept alive the hopes that a “new Moses” might arise among them, and lead them to expel the Romans! (!) A new Exodus under a new Moses -- maybe even a new warrior savior like Joshua (whose name in Hebrew “Yeshua” was Jesus’ name, too!).

Like every good holiday, then, Passover was about the past and the present, and pointed to a changed future… a new possibility.

Since people from Galilee traveled to and from Jerusalem in large groups -- either inland through Samar

ia or along the Jordan River valley for safety (like a “wagon train” in early America going West through Indian Territory) -- Mary & Joseph would assume that young Jesus was somewhere among their fellow-travelers when they began the long trek home. However, when they could not find him along the trail, they rushed back to Jerusalem, looking for Jesus that day and the next. (!) When they finally came to the Temple, there sat Jesus… a 12-year-old boy among the religious leaders and teachers: scribes and Pharisees, and perhaps even a priest or two. (That’s the painting I showed the children this morning.)

Jesus was asking questions of them, and answering questions that they posed in return. Luke tells us that everyone was amazed at his understanding and his answers. (When I preached about this text last year, you may recall that I suggested that Jesus was perhaps questioning the necessity of sacrificial slaughter … as well as the many “rituals and rule-keepers” he encountered there in the Temple, so very different from how he related to God at home in Galilee.)[1]

Be that as it may, Jesus’ mother pulled him aside and gave him the kind of lecture you or I might expect: “Son! Why have you treated us so?” she began.

“Son”…? Mary might as well have called him “child!” Her tone as much as her words would remind this young adolescent that he wasn’t grown up yet! “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”

(We’ve been worried sick! We’ve been looking everywhere for you!)

Jesus replied, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” … “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”