“A Twelve-Year-Old Boy, Filled with Wisdom” (Luke 2:40-52)
When I was twelve years old, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Pretty impressive, eh? No, pretty stupid, actually. Because, at twelve years old, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon . . . without telling anyone. Let me explain. This was back in the days of train travel, and my mother, grandmother, sister, and I were taking the train from Chicago to Los Angeles for a family reunion. When we got to Arizona, there was an option to get off the train, get on a bus, and take a day trip to see the Grand Canyon. Which we did. When I saw it, I thought the Grand Canyon was amazing, fascinating! So I started exploring, as twelve-year-old boys are wont to do, and I came across this trail, hugging the side of the canyon and going down. I started walking down it. Fascinating, incredible, I thought! So I kept walking down the trail. And kept walking. Eventually, I ended up at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. And it was 110 degrees. And I was wearing flip-flops. And I had no water. Now I had to get back up, which looked a little more daunting than going down. And the bus was going to leave at a certain time to go back to the train. Again, I hadn’t told anyone what I was doing or where I was going.
Well, long story short, I did get back up, and we did make the bus and make it back to the train. But you should have seen my mom! She was frantic. She was about to call the park rangers. Needless to say, she was quite upset with me. And justifiably so. Her twelve-year-old boy–yours truly–had done something rather foolish.
In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter another twelve-year-old boy who gave his mom quite a panic. They too were on a family trip, and he didn’t tell anybody where he would be or what he would be doing, either. So was this boy doing something foolish? No, quite the contrary. In fact, today we meet “A Twelve-Year-Old Boy, Filled with Wisdom.”
The boy, of course, is Jesus. And this is the only incident from his life between the ages of 2 and 30 that we have recorded in Holy Scripture. It happens when he is twelve years old.
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” Well, first of all, good for Joseph and Mary. They are good, responsible parents, taking their children to church at the times they’re supposed to. By the way, there may have been other children by this time, but they are not mentioned here.
So they’re in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, just as it should be. “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey.” Now often it was the case that people from the same town would travel in a big group, in a caravan, to go to Jerusalem for one of the pilgrimage festivals. And so on the way there or on the way back, a twelve-year-old boy might be hanging with his buddies from another family, or his cousins, and you might not notice it or think too much of it at the moment. But at the end of the day, you would want to know where your boy is.
“They went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.” “What?” Joseph and Mary are thinking. “Did our boy Jesus miss the bus? We better go back to Jerusalem and find him!” Which they do, they go back, and it takes a couple more days for them to find him. Now guess where they find him, and what they find him doing?
“After three days they found him in the temple.” Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the temple. Now frankly, that should not be too much of a surprise. After all, the temple was designed to be the dwelling place of God on earth. So what more appropriate place for Jesus to be? Also, think about where we last saw Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Remember, from last week? Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary take the baby Jesus to Jerusalem, to the temple. Remember Simeon and Anna and all that? Well, now here in the very next verses, we have the twelve-year-old boy Jesus once again in Jerusalem, at the temple. I sense a theme here.
And what is Jesus doing at the temple? “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.” Jesus is unfolding God’s word. He who came to make God known to us, he to whom all of Holy Scripture points, the sum and substance of Scripture–yea, the Word of God incarnate–this Jesus is displaying his divine wisdom early on.
Jesus is the very embodiment of wisdom. You know, wisdom is much more than mere knowledge. It’s not just being able to answer all the questions in Bible trivia. Wisdom is knowing what to do with one’s knowledge. It is exercising sound judgment, right decision-making. It is understanding the right relationship between God and man. It is right belief, combined with right action. And Jesus has it. Jesus is it. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Dear friend, if you want to be wise, if you want to seek wisdom, seek Christ. He will unfold God’s word to you. He will give you understanding. And you can find him right here in the temple. This house is God’s temple, because this is where Jesus has promised to be present, in the gospel, in Word and Sacrament.
So Joseph and Mary finally find Jesus, at the temple, doing his thing. “And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” You know, in the mouth of any other twelve-year-old boy, Jesus’ words here would have been disrespectful and rude. But not in Jesus’ case. Because Jesus has a unique identity and a unique mission, and that is first and foremost.
Jesus’ identity is unique. He is true God and true man in one person. The Son of God and the son of Mary. Fully divine and fully human. The one and only eternal Son of God, come down from heaven, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, for us men and for our salvation. And that, in turn, speaks of Jesus’ unique mission.
How would Jesus accomplish his divine mission? By once again going to Jerusalem, some 20 years later, and then and there fulfilling what all the sacrifices done at the temple were only pointing ahead to. Which is the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins. Once again, some 20 years later, Jesus would go to Jerusalem at Passover time, and then and there fulfill what the Passover lamb pointed ahead to. By his sacrifice, death would pass over us, and we would be set free to go on our journey to the Promised Land. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s Jesus, and he would do that big Passover-Lamb job, in Jerusalem. That’s why he came. That was his divine destiny.
And so now, at twelve years old, Jesus is giving Joseph and Mary a little reminder that that is what he came to do. He says, quite respectfully, but also quite incisively, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Joseph and Mary, you have known from the time of Jesus’ conception and birth that this child would have a special destiny. Angels have told you. Simeon told you. Remember, Mary? “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” Yes, the foreshadowing of the cross, even from Jesus’ childhood.
“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” “I must be,” Jesus says. There is a divine necessity about his being there. It has to be. “I must be in my Father’s house.” More literally, our text says, “It is necessary for me to be in or among the things of my Father.” Another way it could be translated is, “I must be about my Father’s business.” That’s what Jesus came to do. He came to do the will of his Father, the heavenly Father, who sent his Son on this giant rescue mission, to redeem all of humanity from the bonds of sin and death.” Those are “the things of my Father” that Jesus is all about.
And this redemption is for you, my friends. Jesus did this for you. For you and Mary and Joseph, and all us sinners in need of rescuing. It would take God’s own Son to accomplish this, and that is what Jesus has done. And Jesus knew this identity of his, and his mission, from early on. Even as a twelve-year-old boy.
A twelve-year-old-boy, filled with wisdom. Look at how our text today is bracketed. At the start it says: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. And at the end: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Truly, this is no foolish boy, running off on his own and not telling his parents. No, this is the Son of God, doing the will of the Father who sent him. This is divine wisdom in the flesh. And we do well to find him where he wants to be found.