By Paul Koch –
I have for many years now made it a priority to meet with a group of my colleagues every week for mutual conversation and consolation. We discuss struggles and offer ideas with regards to our specific ministry. We’ve created a safe place where we can be open and honest and continue to work to become better preachers and teachers. Now the centerpiece to our gathering, the thing from which everything else flows, is a discussion of the assigned readings for the coming week. We do our best to work through the Greek or Hebrew, and we never fail to see things we hadn’t before. New questions and insights always arise from the text. Sometimes we have lengthy discussions on translation options and subtle nuances we had previously overlooked. And then we get a text like the one of Jesus as a 12-year-old boy in the temple (Luke 2:40-52) … a text that we simply wonder what this text is even doing in the Bible.
It’s a nice story. It is something we may enjoy knowing. But what purpose does this serve? Why does Luke make sure to record for us this narrative of Jesus as a boy in the temple in Jerusalem? I’m not suggesting this isn’t an important text. After all, it does contain the first recorded words of our Lord. It’s just that it is hard to see why we needed to hear this story.
We learn in this text that Mary and Joseph are devout and faithful children of Israel. They try and keep the commands, they’ve already made the sacrifice for the first born (when they met Simeon) and now we find that every year they go up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. And so when Jesus was 12 years old they make their annual pilgrimage. Its seems like they traveled in a group of friends and relatives. But this particular time when they left, Jesus stayed behind. About a day’s journey away from the city they start to search in earnest for him and discover that he is not with the group. They rush back and begin searching throughout the city. No doubt they are terrified. No doubt they feel they have failed in their vocation, for it takes three days of searching to find him in the temple. And when they find him, he is sitting amidst the teachers asking them questions. We are told that all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and answers.
Now the only one who didn’t seem so amazed was his mom who said, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And then for the first time in Scripture we hear the words of Jesus, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” These words are no doubt the center of this text, they must be why we are told about our Lord’s staying behind in Jerusalem. So the force of the text, and with it the reason that we will read it in church, is that Jesus is in the place where he is supposed to be. He is not necessarily where anyone else, even his own mother, may want him to be but he is in exactly the right place. The actions and movements of God in flesh are not haphazard and random but intentional and deliberate. The words of Jesus here offer a foreshadowing of his work, they offer us both and encouragement and a warning about what is to come.
See, as time and distance has separated us from the days that our Lord walked upon this earth we have grown in our boldness to take ahold of our Lord and try to mold him into one particular form or another. Great divisions within the church have championed one version of Jesus over another. Everyone is eager to take ahold of our Lord and declare, “Here is where he is, here is where you can find, him, here is where he is going to be!”
On the one hand they hold up the picture of Jesus as the happy lover of all things. This is the Hippy Jesus; the Jesus that welcomes all, embraces all, and rejects no one. Sins expressly forbidden no longer need to be considered sins. They don’t need to be repented of. They don’t call for any shame or remorse. No, you have Jesus on your side. This is the Jesus that always seems to show up when there is some sort of social injustice in the world. From the tragedies of gun violence, to fleeing refugees and even debates over the minimum wage in this country we can find this Jesus making an appearance. There he is to encourage love and not war, to stand alongside Rodney King in wondering why can’t we all just get along?
This sort of Jesus fits well into the agendas of many. He is useful to our causes and programs from the federal government down to our local congregation. And truth be told, it seems that this form of Jesus is the form that many are searching for. Many hope to find God in acceptance, tolerance and love.
On the other hand, there is the picture of Jesus that comes often in response to the Hippy Jesus. This is the Jesus as the Lawgiver, the one who has lived the perfect life, suffered and died for the sins of the world and freely given that freedom he earned to you. This is the Jesus of the more serious Christians, those who have a few years under their belts, those who are ready to live their lives in honor to his gift to them. If you’re ready to get your discipleship into shape, if you’re prepared to make some sacrifices, this is the type of Jesus you want. By his life he has shown you the way, by his blood he called you to follow. This is the Jesus that shows up culturally in the great legislative debates in our country. From arguments of same sex marriage to abortion issues, we can find this Jesus leading the charge.
Now the Lawgiver Jesus fits well into people’s agendas, just as much as the Hippy Jesus does. People search for him when they are looking to that final word, that decisive direction from God. He may not thrive so much in our local governments but he certainly does in our churches. This is the Jesus that keeps the machine turning, that keeps us on the straight and narrow.
But I fear that to go running around searching for one particular form of Jesus over another, one that meets our needs at a given time or supports our agenda, is a foolish errand. This is to reenact Mary and Joseph combing the streets of Jerusalem trying to find him. Jesus is not a tool for our use. He isn’t here to move our agendas forward or champion our causes. He is the agenda; he is the cause. And so he will be exactly where he needs to be. He will be in the right place. And this is good news! Sure we may not like the fact that we can’t find the Hippy Jesus when we would really like him, or that the Lawgiving Jesus seems missing when we really want to prove our point. And he might well say to us, “Why are you looking for me?” For do you not know that he will be exactly where he needs to be, and he will be there for you. In fact, he promises that this will be that case.
You who are baptized, you have been baptized into Christ himself. He is there for you in those waters, there to put to death your sins in his death on Calvary, there to give you a new life in his righteousness. Baptism isn’t a hoping that we find Jesus there but an engagement in the promises that he is there for you. There to kill sins and give new life, there to give hope and confidence to his children. Jesus promises that to be born of water and the Spirit is to see the kingdom of God. I had a lady just the other day come up to me at the assisted living facility where I do a Vespers service and ask me if I remembered when I became a Christian. I said, “Not really, I was baptized as a baby.” To which she said, “Well being washed with water doesn’t make you a Christian.” And I said, “Are you sure? Because that seems to be exactly where he said he would be.”
“Take, eat, this is my body… Take, drink, this is my blood.” In the Supper of our Lord he is present for us. There sinners are embraced and forgiven, there our brokenness is laid into the hands of the one who was broken on our behalf. And in that living Word, the Word of Law and Gospel, the Word that brings us to our knees in repentance and lifts us up in the gifts of Christ, that Word spoken from the mouths of our brothers and sisters, is the right place to find our Lord.
It is difficult to use this Jesus for our agendas. For as we find him in the places he promises to be, we are brought into his agenda. We are brought to death and then given new life. Jesus is always concerned with the business of his Father, a Father who through the work of that Boy in the temple now calls you his children.