Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him 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. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. — Luke 2:41-52
Lucy likes it when I go to Parent-Teacher nights at the school. Kim used to go, I was often working, but one night Kim’s mother was sick so I was sent as a substitute. I wandered in the gymnasium with a list of teacher names and sat in these chairs in a line-up to speak to Mr. MacLeod or Ms. McMullin or Ms. MacLean (it is Nova Scotia you know…). I would tell them who I was, that I was Lucy’s father, and let the conversation go from there.
Lucy has always done well in school, a combination of her biological smarts, her mother’s love of reading and writing and her father’s work ethic. So each teacher would look at the class list, scroll to the middle and see Little. The teacher would look up and exclaim, “no need to worry, she is at the top of her class.” One teacher even began and ended our encounter with, “Look, I don’t even know why you are here, do you have any idea how many students I have with serious issues? Please just go home, hug your kid and hope this luck continues.”
But I wasn’t there for a summary of Lucy’s grades. I already knew from the Report Cards how she was doing. And I wasn’t particularly interested in the teachers who all wanted Lucy to be more of an extrovert. I finally said to one teacher, “Look, I am an extrovert and you are an extrovert, do you think the world need more talkers like us? Frankly I am delighted Lucy is a listener, the world needs more of them.” This bias in the school system against introverts and in favour of extroverts has always bothered me, it’s why in small groups people always think extroverts know more than we really do. We discount the introverts and overestimate the knowledge of loud-mouths like me. It’s a bit of a pet-peeve of mine. Lucy loves it that I talk like this with teachers.
No, the questions I always want to ask the teacher are these, 1) Is Lucy taking an interest in students who are not necessarily like her, is she paying attention to the students with special challenges, to the ones who are standing on the edge of gatherings and 2) Is she talking to wise leaders at the school, listening to them, asking them questions, processing her thoughts? The answers to these questions are interesting since that is not what most teachers hear from parents. So the teacher usually puts down her/his pen, ponders for a spell, and then shares something about Lucy that helps me to know my daughter better, see her in a different context and be aware of her moral development, of how her character is evolving, how she is, as Jean Vanier might say, “becoming human.”
Today’s Bible reading focusses on Jesus as a twelve year-old. The only account we have, in fact, of Jesus between infancy and adulthood, unless you consider the non-Canonical Gospels. This reading not only focusses on Jesus, it focusses on Jesus and his family as well. Mary, his mother, and Joseph—his father. In our passage, this family’s making their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy City, for the season of Passover. Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt, as described in the book of Exodus of the Old Testament. This is a significant detail because not everyone did this. Making a pilgrimage to the city would be expensive. It’d be hard work. So the fact that Jesus’ family makes it every single year shows their dedication, their devotion. Mary and Joseph are pious Jews. They take their faith seriously enough to take the time.
When the festival ends, when they’re on their way home, Joseph and Mary notice something missing. After about a day of travels, they notice someone missing—Jesus. Now, these long roads can be dangerous, rife with thieves and bandits. So before you start accusing Joseph and Mary of child neglect, keep in mind they’re traveling as a large group of friends and family. So they probably just assumed Jesus was with trusted family members as part of the big caravan.
Something drew Jesus away that sent him in the opposite way of family and home. Something mysterious, something deeper. Something more profound. The family retrace their steps. Back to Jerusalem, back to the Temple. And there in the Temple is Jesus. And he’s sitting around with the Rabbis, the teachers of the faith. He’s listening, engaging them with questions. “Why were you searching for me?” Jesus asks, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Or, as the old King James Version puts it, “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business.”
So what does it mean to be “in my Father’s house” or “about my Father’s business”? Firstly the context for Luke-Acts is the early church, written sometime after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when the church has becoming a more constant and organic gathering. In a nutshell the church then was a local collection of people who found in the story of Jesus new life and new family connections. It was still illegal to worship anyone other than the prescribed deities so this relatively new movement of Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, rich and poor, immigrant and long-standing residents, women and men, widows and large families, these connected, united, drawn to a spirit of Jesus and it all happened in a small home. These houses were located wherever it was convenient for believers to gathering, they ate together, worshipped together, healed one another, buried one another and lived as family. So when Luke-Acts makes reference to “house” there is a sense of Christian community, Jesus-people, people of The Way as they came to be known. So in one sense Jesus is in his Father’s house, doing his Father’s business, moving beyond his own kin into the realm of others, sharing with them a sense of community and deep connection, learning from wise leaders and teachers. All of this formation would one day culminate in the Saviour Jesus was living into being, a Divine process that led the Holy Spirit to descend on Jesus like a dove and fill him with what believers were searching for.
I believe this text of scripture is given to us as a balance to our natural tendency to value family and friends and country over others and posit the sacred not only in the familiar but also in the other. Our family and friends may grow weary of our wandering beyond the boundary of kin but as followers of Jesus we are drawn to the other, to the wise teachers, to those who help us grow into an awareness of another family, a family like the ones we read about in Acts and several of the local communities Paul writes his letter to.
If over these holidays you slipped away to visit someone or someones not necessary connected to your kin and you were given a stern taking to, for abandoning your family, please remember this sacred story and Jesus’ broader definition of family. The next time you get this lecture from a family member tell her/him, “Sorry, I am about God’s house, God’s business” and see what reaction you receive. It may well prompt a most holy conversation.
Thanks be to God for the house we belong to, the connecting business we are in. Amen.