Today's gospel is a unique one; it is the only account that we have in all the gospels of Jesus as a boy. Nowhere in any of the other gospels do we have information on the childhood and youth of Jesus. Probably most of us are somewhat curious about Jesus' childhood and youth. We may have questions like: Did Jesus play hide-and-seek as well as other games with his boyhood friends? Who were his friends? Did he help Mary and Joseph with the daily chores at home? Was he good at sports? Did he like music or art? However, all of these and similar questions remain a mystery to us. We just don't know--other than our gospel today--anything about the childhood and youth of Jesus.
As I read and studied today's gospel, the first thing to leap out at me was the point Luke makes concerning the faithfulness of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to God and God's ways. They were people of the Israelite covenant. Luke says, "every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover." According to the Torah, it was prescribed for all adult Jewish males who lived at a distance to come to Jerusalem at least once a year for the festival of the Passover. This was not required of adult Jewish females, nor of children. Once a male was 13-years-old, he went through the process of bar mitzvah, and would be required to attend the Passover festival.
The fact that all family members went up to this Passover, is an indication that all of them were faithful Jews to God and the covenant--going beyond what was required of them. Their loyalty and love of God and the covenant is an example to all of us as parents and children. In a secular world, it is not popular to be regular churchgoers. We may be treated with some degree of ridicule and even outright hostility because we choose to be loyal to God and God's ways. Yet, the Holy Family is a good model for us today. Our loyalty to God and God's ways gives us the strength, resources and blessings to cope with the trials and sufferings of this world. Our faithfulness to God and the church is like an oasis in the desert--it quenches our thirst. It is like a great feast--filling us with the heavenly food and drink of Christ's body and blood through the elements of bread and wine. Herein we are offered forgiveness and healing, refreshment and renewal, communion with the King of kings, the Prince of peace, Saviour of the world, and the community of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Through the working of God's Spirit, together with the Word, we are given newness of life, prepared for our journey of faith, guided in the ways of truth and love.
There may well be another practical reason for the 12-year-old Jesus coming along to the Jerusalem Passover festival. In one year's time, it would be his turn for bar mitzvah. He needed to prepare for it. What better way to prepare for it than to visit Jerusalem, the temple, and participate in the Passover festival there? Most things in life of great value do require practice, don't they? Whether it be a fine work of art, literature or music; whether it be the ability to function as a wise, insightful, loving, caring leader or parent; whether it be familiarity with God and God's ways--all require practice. Our faith without practice has little value. It appears that Jesus and his parents knew this very well, and so they were faithful in making their yearly journey to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
The second thing that leapt out at me when I pondered this gospel was that for three days Jesus had been "in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers." This information that Luke provides us with reveals at least three things. First, that the nature of Torah study was very deep and serious. There is a love and enthusiasm of learning, wisdom, insight and understanding here. A love that is meant to be shared in the community of faith and in the larger world--not kept secret inside of us.
I wonder what would happen if we in our Canadian churches had this love and enthusiasm of learning, wisdom, insight and understanding? Instead of spending so much time and energy on trivial matters and endlessly seeking to be entertained; would that today's children and youth had the love and enthusiasm of Jesus in the temple! Would that this love and enthusiasm might be shared and valued by parents too! Then maybe all of the conflicts between pastors, parents, children and youth concerning Sunday School and Confirmation programs might no longer exist. Why? because competing secular loyalties would no longer rule the roost.
Secondly, the dialogue, study, questioning, listening of Jesus with Jerusalem's erudite temple teachers is a good catechetical model for our churches today. More and more, our churches are discovering the benefits of an intergenerational catechism process. The 12-year-old Jesus in the temple learning and studying with people of various ages is a good example for churches and synagogues today. Children and youth need faithful adults to mentor with in the nurturing and formation, and transmission process of the faith. The temple scholars provided Jesus with such mentors. Conversely, yet complimentary to this process, is the need for parents and other adults to learn from, study and dialogue with our children and youth. We adults are still on our journey of faith too! We haven't learned all there is to learn yet--nor shall we, we are life-long learners with our children and youth. If our children and youth pick up this attitude from us, they shall be well prepared to face the challenges of the future--as will we.
This brings us to the third observation of our gospel, namely: that, Luke tells us, "all who heard (Jesus) were amazed at his understanding and answers." Children and youth know when parents and adults "patronize" them. They also know when parents and other adults take them seriously. There is, within every child and youth, a deep desire to be loved, accepted, and respected by their parents and other adults; to acknowledge that they are of great value; to provide them with opportunities to serve God and the church with their gifts and talents; to value what they are able to offer us adults and the church as a whole.
When the city leaders of Florence decided to add to the Baptistry of St. John (across from today's famed Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) its second set of bronze doors, a competition was announced. Out of the seven competitors, the two youngest were the ones whose style and brilliance most impressed the judges. Brunelleschi was about 23 years of age; Lorenzo Ghiberti was just 20.
It is rather ironic and interesting that after the frantic three day search for Jesus, Mary responds to Jesus with scorn, rather than gratitude: "Child why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." I wonder whether we who are parents respond any differently to our children and youth in similar situations? We, like Mary and Joseph allow our frantic fears, anxieties, impatience and sometimes even anger to make the wrong conclusions and say things that we likely deeply regret after the fact. We, like Mary and Joseph, lack in understanding of our children and youth. For example, a daughter comes home 5 or 10 minutes after the midnight curfew. Her father driven by his impatient anger and fear, yells at the daughter: "Where have you been? I was just about to call the police!" The daughter replies: "After the show my friend's car wouldn't start. I used our booster cables to give her a boost, that's why I'm late."
It was the youngest of the two who got the final commission, and it took him 21 years to complete it. Another 27 years were spent in designing, casting, chasing and finishing a third set, the beloved gilded doors that Michelangelo later names "The Gates of Paradise."
When youth has talent to offer, the world (and one hopes, the church) makes a place for them. It made a place for young Samuel, Samson, David, and Jeremiah. Biblical scholars in Jerusalem listened to Jesus as a 12-year-old temple visitor. The Saviour was just past His thirties when He launched out into a ministry that still excites and thrills the world. It is such energized, determined youth that keeps the world young, for in youth it finds its springtime.1
Jesus' answer to his parents underscores the reality that he had a Divine Parent over and above his earthly parents, to whom belongs his ultimate love and loyalty. "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?(about my Father's interests/business?) Jesus' answer here, once again, affirms the importance of putting and keeping first things first. Jesus was fulfilling perfectly the law and the prophets. This was his destiny set by his Divine Parent. He stuck to that destiny without wavering one iota. He must keep on course to fulfill his holy purposes of being the Messiah, the Saviour of humankind. May we too, along with our children and youth, stick to our God-given destiny, come what may; and in so doing, spend our lives in faithful, loving service to our Triune God.
1 Eve Borsook, The Companion to Florence(San Francisco: Harper & Row), pp.66-70.
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