I am Kelli Martin, and I have been a parishioner at Epiphany for over 2 years.
A group of us at Epiphany were talking recently about today’s Scripture: we talked about how a child getting lost during the time of Jesus’ childhood would not have been alarming at first. Parents wouldn’t go from 0-100 in a millisecond. At first, there’d be no frantic searching because traveling in large groups was customary back then, especially around holy days. Perhaps Mary and Joseph were preoccupied with the other kids, so it was easy to overlook Jesus and assume he was with extended family or friends.
Today’s Gospel, though, tells us that this time, Jesus’ parents could not find him. He was lost – for 3 days. It wasn’t until after Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem that they finally found Jesus. He was sitting in the temple, talking with teachers. He was 12 years old and showed extraordinary depth and sophistication in the questions and answers that he was sharing. Everyone was amazed! Even Mary and Joseph. But they were not focused on Jesus’s knowledge and his inquisitiveness. They were probably so relieved to find their son. The Gospel tells us Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” We Bible readers understand Mary’s worry and her admonishing Jesus. But what I found mesmerizing is Jesus’ reaction.
The Gospel tells us Jesus says, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” For me, this was THE pivotal line. Jesus expects them to know him well enough, that they’d know where he would be…but they don’t know! I wondered, “Is Jesus surprised or mad that they don’t know where he would be located? Is he disappointed in their lack of knowledge and awareness of him? And what exactly do they not understand?”
The more I reread the Gospel, the more it made me think of knowing: How well we know someone; how well we think someone knows us. How do we respond when we expect someone close to us to know something important about us, but they fail in that expectation? How does God want us to respond to that?
This Scripture led me to think that God wants us to respond with acceptance. Yes, Mary and Joseph knew their son was special. The angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear a son and “He will be called the Son of the Most High…” But it’s one thing to know something, and another thing to live it. Jesus accepted where his parents were in their knowledge and understanding of him and his life. He didn’t try to change them or put conditions on their love. He loved and accepted them, as they were. And Mary seems to mirror Jesus. Scripture says after they returned home, Jesus was obedient to them – he was 12 after all. And, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” It’s as if over time, she continues to think deeply about her son, she accepts him, even absorbs him – even if she didn’t yet fully understand who he was becoming.
I realized, this is how God wants us to love and care for one another; with acceptance. I don’t think we’re here to change one another. Only God does that. But we witness that changing. And sometimes God allows us to participate in the other person’s change. We witness God transforming us and transforming the people God puts in our lives.
This Scripture brings that lesson to life for me through an experience I had with my 10-year old daughter. She’d just come back from a slumber party. She and her friends had been up late. I knew she was tired, so I didn’t make it a requirement that she go to church that day, even though that particular Sunday was my first time reading a lesson during the service. I saw my daughter turn over to go back to sleep but later, I heard her getting ready in the bathroom. I said, “Where are you going?” She said, “To church. With you. Mommy. Anytime you do something at church like read or preach, I will be there to see you. Because I want to support you.” She said it like I should have known that that’s what she’d do. She had expected me to know that about her, and I hadn’t. Even though I remembered many moments of compassion and support that I saw her show her friends over the years, I was genuinely surprised by her decision. I should have known. But she didn’t hold it against me. She accepted it. And now we come to church together, whether I serve as lector or not. It’s turned into a special time that she and I share.
But today’s Scripture reminds me, it’s not only hers and my time together, is it. She might not realize it yet, she’s only 10 after all, but she shares that time with God. It’s theirs together. And one day, she will put that novel down that she sometimes reads during service, and instead she’ll read the Gospel from her Bible, the one that she recently decided to start bringing to church. She decided that too all on her own. As she grows in her learning and her love of God, one day she will separate from me in church, and lose herself with God. She will realize that she is a child of God. Maybe one day she will state that. I will be a witness to it. Perhaps this will be her coming of age in and with God. She has the boy Jesus in the temple as a model.
A few weeks ago Doyt preached about coming of age. In today’s Gospel, young Jesus’ proclamation, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I think this is a rare glimpse of the spark that shows Jesus coming of age in and with God. It’s rare to get a glimpse of that, because most of what we read about Jesus shows him as an adult. In our collective imagination, it’s like he’s always been this fully formed man. But here, this is the only mention in the Gospels where we see Jesus in this age range. 12 years old is important because it’s the last year before a Jewish boy becomes a man. So here, Jesus is on the cusp of manhood. He’s old enough to choose to stay behind in Jerusalem. He’s old enough to know his parents would worry. He’s old enough to hear God’s calling for him. He’s old enough to answer it and obey it.
I think what we’re seeing here is not only Jesus’ coming of age. What we’re seeing is Jesus’ calling coming to life. When do we ever get the chance to witness the spark of someone’s calling? It’s hard enough to see that spark in everyday people like us. But to witness the spark of Jesus’s calling? Jesus was certainly very human here…but here we also see his divinity, up close and personal. This is what God living a human life looks like.
We followers of Jesus are taught that Jesus’ calling is this: to make God known and to become the Christ – born, crucified, resurrected so that we could have everlasting life. When I think of a calling, even Jesus’, I think it involves these elements: impulse, timing, opportunity, self-revelation, and witnesses.
Jesus’s impulse for his calling of course originated with God before time. The timing of Jesus as a boy in the temple ignites the path of his calling, but it’s not time for Jesus to show himself as the Messiah yet. Here in the temple, even though Jesus amazed teachers and his parents with his spiritual understanding, Jesus still had listening and growing and learning to do. The Gospel tells us, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
A calling must also have opportunity – Jesus had that in Jerusalem, the place where God and humanity come together – Jesus lived in that opportunity for three days straight! We know how it is when someone gets caught up in their calling, so immersed in it, that the rest of the world slips away.
Another thing I realized. Until this point we’ve heard about Jesus’s calling from others. Never from Jesus himself – until now.
We’ve heard about Jesus’ calling from the angel Gabriel. We’ve heard it from the priest Zechariah and Elizabeth. We heard of Jesus’ calling from John the Baptist himself. We’ve heard from shepherds and angels, prophets Anna and Simeon, the teachers in the temple…they all talk about Jesus’ calling. What all of these people are…are witnesses. Witnesses are key to a calling being developed.
For a calling to be brought to life, what is also key is one’s own revelation of what their calling is. Here, for the first time, we see Jesus doing that. We witness Jesus having that self-revelation. He speaks it. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This is what God living a human life looks like.
Imagine seeing a young Toni Morrison begin to have the understanding that she would go on to write something as awe-inspiring as The Bluest Eye. Imagine the moment Samuel Barber admits he was born to be the composer who would one day create the timeless, transporting Adagio for Strings set to Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). Or The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stating the knowledge that his gift for oratory and for understanding what human equality and our common dignity look like… would lead him to write some of the most seminal and righteous offerings of our time.
But accepting one’s calling and living into it often means separating ourselves. In his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon and his “I’ve Been to The Mountaintop” address, Dr. King separated himself from his time on earth. He preached about what he’d want his eulogy to focus on: he said his pursuit of justice and his serving humanity, not his degrees and awards. He said he might not make it to the mountaintop with the people of the Movement. He wasn’t abandoning them, but rather he was occupying a space distinct from them. In today’s Gospel, Jesus sounds like he’s separating himself from his parents., not denying them. Joseph is his father. But it is “father” spelled with a lowercase “f”. Jesus says God is his Father; it’s written with a capital “F.” Jesus has lived in Joseph’s house all his life and he will continue to for a time. Yet the time is coming when Jesus must live and teach and learn and love in another home. His Father God’s house will soon take priority in Jesus’ life. The word he uses is “must.” He says he “must” do this. It’s his calling. To me, with this Scripture, yes Jesus seemed to separate himself and be distinct from others. Yet I realized that when he starts his ministry, he’d be completely with and for and of and so close to people. Maybe that separateness living right alongside that closeness…is what God living a human life looks like too.
Today’s culture talks a lot about our individual callings. How unique they are. And that is true. We each have our special ways to live out our God-given gifts. But the way this Scripture reads to me now: we followers of Jesus ALL have the same calling. This calling is higher than what we may do for a living. It is the calling to proclaim that it is God we belong to, it is God that we are of and from. I even started saying that in my prayers.
This new year, let’s not lose Jesus. This past year I think our world lost Jesus in some ways. Let’s not lose him. Perhaps today’s Gospel can inspire us to reflect on how it is our calling to never lose him. It is our collective calling to always find him, to grow in our knowledge of God, to love Jesus, to hold on to him.
This Scripture teaches us that our calling to follow Jesus happens through a community of witnesses. They nurture, and guide, our calling. And yet our calling is cemented when we name our self-revelation. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This calling may make us name a new home. This calling, our obedience to this calling, may separate us, for a time, from our parents or children or other loved ones. This separation might be where we learn stillness and quiet of prayer, where we study and gather knowledge, where we rest, or where we listen more deeply to the Holy Spirit that is in your heart telling you what is yours to do. This boy Jesus in the temple is what God living a human life looks like. We are witnesses to that…we are participants in it, this is our collective calling, and we are grateful followers.