The lectionary offers three options for the Second Sunday After Christmas. My parish will be celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. We used the Matthew option last year. So this year I choose Luke 2:41-52 as our gospel text.
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 travelers, 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 favor.
As parents, relatives, teachers, guardians, and friends of children we are, and rightfully should be, concerned for their well being. We are to protect and teach them, nurture and nourish their lives, ensure their health and safety. We all need someone to guide and guard our growing up. Growing up is hard work.
Growing up means establishing our identity and figuring out our place in this world. It involves creating relationships, setting priorities, making decisions. We must choose values and beliefs that structure our lives. Along the way we make mistakes, get lost, backtrack, and sometimes just need to start over. Ultimately, growing up means moving out and finding a new home. This may be a geographical move, but most certainly it involves psychological and spiritual moves.
So it is no surprise that Mary would be in a panic when she discovers that Jesus is not with the group of travelers. With great anxiety she and Joseph search for him. Three days later the one who was lost has been found. Mary’s first words are, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” What I really hear is, “Where have you been young man? Your father and I did not survive angel visits, birth in a manger, and living like refugees in Egypt only to have you get lost in Jerusalem.” But Jesus isn’t the one who is lost. He knows who he is and where he belongs. Mary and Joseph are the ones who are lost.
Today’s gospel is a story about growing up but it is not Jesus’ growing up. It is about Mary and Joseph growing up. It is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are. It is really about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God, our world, each other, and ourselves.
Jesus is the one who grows us up. He is the one who will grow up Mary and Joseph. Children have a way of doing that to their parents. They challenge us to look at our world, our lives, and ourselves in new, different, and sometimes painful ways. That is exactly what Jesus’ question to Mary does. She had put herself and Joseph at the center of Jesus’ world. His question was about to undo that.
“Why were you searching for me?” he asks. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus is telling Mary she should have known where he was. It is as if he is saying, “Remember, the angel told you I would be the Son of God. Remember that night in Bethlehem. Angels praising God, shepherds glorifying God. Remember the three men from the East, their gifts, and adoration. Remember Joseph’s dreams that guided us to Egypt and back. Where else could I be but here?” Jesus has put the Father at the center of his world and asks Mary and us to do the same, to move to the Father’s home.
Authentic growth almost always involves letting go. Mary’s move to the Father’s house, her growing up, means that she will have to let go of her “boy Jesus” (Lk. 2:43) image. Jesus was born of Mary but he is the Father’s Son. He is with her but does not belong to her. She can give him love but not her thoughts or ways. He is about the Father’s business. Ultimately, she must strive to be like him and not make him like her.*
Jesus has moved from Mary and Joseph’s home to the Father’s home. This is not a rejection of his earthly parents but an re-prioritizing of relationships. It is what he would ask of Simon and Andrew, James and John. “Follow me” would be the invitation for them to leave their homes, their nets, their fathers and move to a different place, live a different life, see with different eyes. It is today what he asks of you and me.
Growing up spiritually involves leaving our comfort zone, letting go of what is safe and familiar, and moving to a bigger place, to the Father’s place. This letting go is a necessary detachment if we are to grow in the love and likeness of Christ. It means we must leave our own little homes.
We all live in many different homes. Homes of fear, anger, and prejudice. Homes of grief and sorrow. Homes in which we have been told or convinced that we don’t matter, that we are not enough, unacceptable, or unloveable. Homes in which we have been or continue to be hurt or wounded. Homes in which we have hurt or wounded another. Homes of indifference and apathy. Homes of sin and guilt. Homes of gossip, envy, pride.
Every one of us could name the different homes in which we live, homes that keep our life small, our visions narrow, and our world empty. The problem is that sometimes we have become too comfortable in these homes. They are not our true homes. They are not the home God offers us. We may have to pass through them but we do not have to stay there.
Jesus says that there is not only another home for us but invites, guides, and grows us up into that home. It is a place he knows well. It is the Father’s home in which we can know ourselves and each other to be his beloved children, created in his image and called to be like him. So why would we continue to pay rent on a place that can only impoverish us when we could move to the Father’s home for free? In the Father’s home our place at the banquet is set. It is a home in which we live in rooms of mercy, forgiveness, joy, love, beauty, generosity, compassion.
Leaving home does not necessarily mean leaving our physical or geographical home though sometimes it might. It does mean examining and re-prioritizing the values, beliefs, and relationships that establish our identity and give our life meaning and significance.
It means letting go of an identity that is limited to our biological family, job, community reputation, ethnic group, or political party and trusting that who we are is who we are in God. It means that we stop relating to one another by comparison, competition, and judgment and begin relating through love, self-surrender, and vulnerability. It means that we let go of fear about the future and discover that God is here in the present and that all shall be well. We stop ruminating on past guilt, regrets, and sins and accept the mercy and forgiveness of God and each other. We see our life not in opposition to others but as intimately related to and dependent upon others.
So I wonder what are the little homes in which you live? How have they bound up your life, stifled your growth, and kept you from the Father’s home? What might you have to leave behind in order to grow up and move to a better place? Those can be hard questions, painful questions. Ultimately, however, they are questions founded on love.
“Child, why have you treated us like this?
“Because I love you. I love you enough to grow you up, to find you when you are lost, and to bring you with me into the Father’s home.”
* Inspired by Khalil Gibran’s “On Children” in his book, The Prophet
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.