Saturday, April 2, 2016

Jesus Asks: Why were you searching for Me?

This is the 13th post in my series "Asking Myself," in which I weekly ponder one question posed in Teresa Blythe's rich book, 50 Ways to Pray. You can find the start of the series here and last week's post here. The first nine posts focused on theological musings, while posts 10 to the present prayerfully consider the specific questions Jesus posed in the New Testament.

Q: "Why were you searching for Me?" Luke 2:49

This week's question was posed to Jesus' parents in what reads a little like an ancient-day version of my boys' current favorite movie. This film would be titled: "Home Alone 3: Left in Jerusalem." Picture the scene: a big trip, a huge entourage of aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends and camels. Luke 2:43 (NLT) says:

After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn't miss him at first...

When the time comes to head home after their week-long Passover stay, Mary and Joseph assume their eldest, Jesus, is with other members of the group. At 12, he's on the brink of manhood, having "grown wise and strong in stature," and he's experienced, having accompanied his family on this annual trip for more than a decade. I can see how his parents assume he's gotten with the program as the caravan heads back to Nazareth. And I get why they don't discover their oversight until a full day into the return trip, and why they reprimand him, "Son, why have you done this to us?," and blame him for getting himself left behind. But I don't think I fully get their son's response in v. 50, (and neither did Mary and Joseph):
"But why did you need to search?" he asked. "Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they didn't understand what he meant.

What Jesus doesn't say gives me pause. By not refuting their question, it seems he's admitting that he purposely stayed behind, as v. 43 also seems to establish. Did Jesus deliberately disobey the implied directions of his parents? If they didn't explicitly tell him it was time to leave, did he take advantage of a loophole in the parental law? Did he stay on a technicality, and if so, is this an example of honoring his parents? Is it not sin?

What Jesus does say gives me pause as well. I'm assuming Jesus speaks gently to his poor, frantic parents. And things are always lost in translation—not only from one language to another, but from one culture and time period to another. Yet, as a mother, I don't know how to think about Jesus' response in a way that doesn't turn him into a smart Alec. The NIV and MSG read like this:

"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"

He said, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?"
Didn't you know? Why did you need to search? I had to be, I must be here. Right here, in my Father's house. Dealing with my Father's things. Mom, Dad, you should have known I'd be tending to the things of My Father.

The boldness with which this young man probes his own parents, after not really answering their question... makes me feel uncomfortable. It seems he genuinely assumes his parents are on the same page as him. Had Mary and Joseph forgotten, over time, the miraculous circumstances of Jesus' conception and birth? The angelic choir, the brilliant starry light, the mysterious and majestic visitors, their narrow escape from Bethlehem guided by a prescient messenger? Had Jesus seemed so gosh-darn human as a baby, toddler and adolescent that Mary's Magnificat had seemed a distant dream? A song from someone else's lips?

Had they started to peg Jesus as just a carpenter, heir to the family business? Had they perhaps discouraged him from more erudite pursuits? Had they dismissed his desire for God's word and for ministry?

Did they need a little wake-up call? And could this wake-up call come in the form of a temple sit-in? Could such a quiet revolt occur without sin? Perhaps my definition of sin has been too broad, to encompassing, too technical? Was Jesus' disappearing act, though outwardly disobedient, actually obedient, in the purest sense, to the Greatest Commandment? Was it a foreshadowing of how 30-year-old Jesus would approach fulfilling not the letter but the spirit of God's law?

Telling also are Mary and Joseph's response to their son's comeback. I dive into the scene again and look around. All eyes must have been on this bedraggled, dusty couple. They probably bust into the quiet with voices a little too loud, altogether unaware of the wonderment of those who were hanging on this religious prodigy's every wise word. But Jesus pulled in their attention heart-ward once again. 

We don't see Mary pulling Jesus out of the Temple by his ear. We don't see Joseph shouting, "Don't you use that tone of voice with your mother!" And we don't hear a thing, because Mary's response wasn't a point by point rebuttal to her son's assumptions. Her response was silence. It's the omniscient narrator (Luke) who tells us that Mary tucks away this moment in her heart, like she had at so many intervals before when it was clear her son was no average Jewish boy. 

I pull out of this scene, empathizing with Mary. I often hide little mothering moments in my heart and journals. I scribble down things my boys say, take mental snapshots of their most endearing expressions, note their developing minds and characters. I, too, treasure those odd moments when my kids teach me something about myself and about God. Of course, I can't fully empathize with the woman who had the distinctive task of mothering the Messiah, but I can certainly appreciate this story.

I turn inward to ask myself: Do I seek out Jesus with this frantic, inattentive attitude—thinking He should be with me, when I should've intuitively known he'd be elsewhere, tending to his Father's business? Do I accuse Him of leading me on a wild goose chase? Of embarrassing me by not doing exactly what was expected? Of making my own authority look weak and testing my own precious sense of control over my situation? Maybe.

While these are intriguing outgrowths of Jesus' question, I admit that they don't completely resonate with me. But I'll hide them in my heart.

I pan back to Jesus. The utter humanness of the Son of God is sometimes hard to grasp. Could it have been that Jesus wanted to live a different life? Could it be he felt some level of discontentment at being an unlearned tradesman? Is discontentment a sin? Is this story an example of yet another way Jesus was tempted and suffered in every way that we have, yet without sin?

And, humor me now; I want to talk about sin some more. Let's take another approach to this story and assume Jesus did not deliberately stay behind, that he really, like Home Alone's Kevin McAllistar, got left in the chaos. Is it a sin to lose track of time, to oversleep—to miss your traveling party's departure? Is it sin to not have planned ahead to avoid such a mishap? Should we expect so much from a wise-beyond-his-years preteen? Or can we blame the culture of his day? Or the bigness and busyness of his entourage, with its rush to return from the festival, drawn back to the comfort and continuity of home? 

Or, beyond shifting blame, let's make Jesus the hero of the story: Could it be that Jesus responded so matter-of-factly to his parent's noisy arrival because he wished to cover their egregious error? Maybe all the learned Rabbis were looking down their noses at this disheveled, unlearned couple. Maybe Jesus' response was meant to show there was no harm, no foul. He'd been left, but what a wonderful time he'd had! And what complete confidence he had that they'd know where to look for him once they'd returned. Jesus' nonchalance over the whole debacle is, perhaps, his tribute to how well his dear parents raised him and trained him in treasuring the things of God. 

Who can know? I hide these thoughts in my heart, hoping that someday Jesus will shine his light on the many facets of the incident. 

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