A Problem Child
Scriptures: Luke 2:41-52, Psalm 122:1-9
My son-in-law, who is soon to be a father, told me about Brian Gordon. Gordon is a cartoonist who does online comic strips about parenting using characters in the shape of ducks. It is called Fowl Language—FOWL. This one is called “Kids Drinking Water.” [Slide 1] The first panel is labeled “Sitting Around” and the parent duck says to the child, “Water?” The child says, “Nah.” The second panel is “After Sports.” [Slide 2] The parent duck says, “Have some water.” The child says, “No thanks.” The third panel is “Dinner.” [Slide 3] The parent duck says, “Can I get you something to …” and the child says, “Nope.” The fourth panel is an hour after bedtime: [Slide 4] “I need water!!!”
I wonder if Jesus ever did that to his parents. There is another Brian Gordon cartoon called “Me-Time.” In the first panel [Slide 5] the parent duck thinks, “Finally! Kids are asleep. Chores are done. From now until bedtime I can do whatever I want!” Here’s the next panel. [Slide 6] It’s not easy being a parent. [Slide 7: Blank]
Of course things get more interesting when children become teenagers. For that you need to read the comic strip Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. In one Zits cartoon, Jeremy, the teenager, has just gotten up, hair disheveled, eyes barely open, and his father walks by and says, “Good morning, Jeremy.” In the next frame his mother comes in and says, “Good morning, Jeremy.” In the last frame Jeremy says to himself, “Seven o-clock in the morning and they are already on my case.”
It’s not easy being a parent, even to Jesus, maybe especially to Jesus. I have sympathy for Jesus’ parents. They are devout people who dearly want their child to have a relationship to God, and they do everything they can to nurture that relationship. Eight days after he is born they take him to the temple to be circumcised, the Jewish equivalent to baptism. Then we are told that every year during Passover they took Jesus to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was 65 miles from Nazareth as the crow flies. Walking, the trip took about 3-5 days each way. And Jesus’ family made that trip every year.
But they were not just Christmas and Easter church goers. Luke 4:16 says, “When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.” Jesus grew up going to church every week. His parents were committed to nurturing his relationship to God.
But there comes a point when we can no longer control what our children do, and we must give them to God. And that is what we see happening in today’s story.
When I first heard this story as a child, I was horrified. I remembered how my parents once left me in a grocery store. They forgot I was with them and took off without me. I looked for them all over the store. But at least they remembered me before they got very far down the street. Jesus’ parents went a whole day before missing him. As a child I was appalled.
Now as an adult I have a little more sympathy for Jesus’ parents. After all, this was not their first trip to Jerusalem. They had been doing this every year. I am sure it was not unusual for Jesus to hang out with his cousins or other family members on these trips. But by the time he was 12 Jesus knew the drill. He knew that when the feast was over, the caravan would be heading home, and he needed to be with them.
I like the way Mary does not beat herself up with guilt. Mary is not an uncaring parent. Neither is Joseph. When they discover that Jesus is missing they search frantically for him for three days. But when they find him, Mary says, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” Mary does not blame herself for the whole situation. She confronts Jesus with his share of responsibility. When Jesus says to her, “Why were you searching for me?” Mary just as easily could have said, “If you were planning to stay, why didn’t you tell us?”
Parents live with so much guilt, I appreciate Mary’s lack of it. Because there comes a point for every parent when we must let go of trying to control our children and commit them to God. May not at 12 years old, but at some point in our children’s lives we must let go and let God.
There is a poem by Alan Paton, author of Cry the Beloved Country, about what it is like to be a parent. It’s called “I Hold the Bandages and Ointment Ready.”
I see my son is wearing long trousers, I tremble at this;
I see he goes forward confidently,
He does not know so fully his own gentleness.
Go forward, eager and reverent child;
See, here I begin to take my hands away from you.
I shall see you walk carelessly on the edges of the precipice
But if you wish you shall hear no word come out of me;
My whole soul will be sick with apprehension,
But I shall not disobey you.
Life sees you coming,
She sees you come with assurance toward her.
She lies in wait for you, she cannot but hurt you;
Go forward, go forward,
I hold the bandages and ointment ready.
That is the kind of parent Mary was.
But this is not just a story about parenting. There are lessons for parents and children in this story. Verse 51 concludes, “Then Jesus went down with [his parents] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” There are lessons for children and parents in this story: lessons about the responsibility of children to their parents and parents to their children and how important it is for them to communicate with each other. But for Luke this is not primarily a story about parenting. It is a story about discipleship. For Luke, Mary is not just an example of what it means to be Jesus’ mother. She is an example of what it means to be Jesus’ follower.
Take a quick look at the references to Mary in these first two chapters: [Slide 8]
- The first time an angel appears to Mary to tell about her having a child, Mary is perplexed and doubtful. But in time she begins to accept the angel’s message. [Click 1] In Luke 1:38 she say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
- Mary is an example of discipleship, but that does not mean she understood everything. After Jesus is born, when the shepherds tell Mary what the angel said about him, [Click 2] Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
- Later when they take Jesus to the temple for the first time, a devout man named Simeon calls him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” [Click 3] And Luke 2:33 says, “And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.”
- This is followed by some ominous words spoken a prophet named Anna. [Click 4] In Luke 2:35 she says to Mary, “A sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
- And finally in our scripture for today, after Jesus says to his parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:50 says, [Click 5] “But they did not understand what he said to them.”
All these experiences of Jesus’ parents: confusion, astonishment, anxiety, even hurt—these are all things we may experience as a disciple—a followers of Jesus. That’s why Luke tells this story. If you try to follow Jesus, and sometimes you feel confused, you are in good company. Even Jesus’ mother felt that way. And if you try to follow Jesus and sometimes you are surprised by things that happen to you—things you did not expect or understand, you are in good company. Even Jesus’ parents felt that way. And sometimes if you try to follow Jesus and you are hurt or worried or even angry, don’t be surprised. Even Jesus’ parents felt that way. In other words, following Jesus is a lot like being a parent: sometimes joyful, sometimes confusing, sometimes surprising, and sometimes traumatic. [Slide 9: Blank].
But here is the Good News: Jesus belongs to a Father greater than his earthly father, and so do we. That is the best hope we have for our children and grandchildren: that they belong to a Father greater than their earthly father or mother. And that is your greatest hope. You have a Father greater than your earthly father or mother, and your children have a Father greater than their earthly father and mother. Jesus showed us that we have a Father who loves us even more than our earthly parents do, a Father in heaven who holds the bandages and ointment ready.