I Was Better Than Jesus

Luke 2:41-52 – The First Sunday after Christmas – for Sunday, December 27, 2015

“His mother said, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!’” (Luke 2:48)

e ticket
Ah, the famous “E” ticket!

Compared to Jesus, I was a good kid.

On a trip to Disneyland as a twelve-year old, give or take a birthday, my parents presented me with an extraordinary opportunity. Unlike the sneaky, smarty-pants, turn-your-back-and-he’s-gone kid from first century Nazareth, I didn’t give my parents a panic attack as payback for their trust.

Once, when Jesus was twelve, he went missing. Bad Jesus. We’ll delve into the indiscretion of the carpenter’s son’s in a moment.

For now, please enter Walt Disney’s famous park with yours truly. My family had visited Disneyland several times. Once, my grandparents joined us! What fun to have parents and grandparents pampering the kids. Those were the long-gone days of the famous “E Ticket.” Back then, rides were identified as A, B, C, D, and—drum roll, please—the E ticket. An “E” provided entry to the popular rides, like the Matterhorn bobsled run and (eventually) the Pirates of the Caribbean. As a young whippersnapper, my parents always kept a tight “leash” on me in the magic kingdom.

Then came the vacation where my parents told my older sister and me that we could explore Disneyland on our own. Just meet us at the Mickey Mouse made of flowers by the clock at a designated time.

Alleluia! For hours, I did what I wanted when I wanted.

Unlike flaky Jesus, I didn’t upset my parents. I promptly arrived by Mickey and the clock, vigilant to Dad and Mom’s rules.

(Okay, fine, I guess I wasn’t the Son of God. You’ve got me there.)

The Gospels focus on the adult Jesus. Only Matthew and Luke have hints of the infancy. Paul, with his most authentic letters predating the Gospels, didn’t mention Jesus as baby, let alone a miraculous birth. Matthew, Mark, and John ignored the adolescent child of Joseph and Mary. Only Luke, only once, offered a glimpse of the pre-teen Nazarene.

If your brand of faith takes the Bible literally, of claiming Jesus as the predicted Messiah, leading a sinless life from gurgling infant to the glorious resurrection, there’s no need to read further. I’ll only cause you to mutter tsk-tsk-tsk and roll your eyes. Taken as infallible fact, wasn’t Luke’s sparse tale of twelve-year Jesus just him being the Son of God? He was never “lost,” but was helping others find themselves! Whether a tyke or a teen, didn’t Jesus do everything in a perfectly correct, God-guided way?

Luke, as convinced as any Gospel writer that Jesus was the Christ, still delivered a fragment of frustrating humanity. Mary, she of Gabriel’s visit and the Magnificat, confronted her son with . . .

Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried . . .

Please, tell me when your mother unloaded love and guilt on you at the same time! Was it once, or hundreds of occasions? Linger at this fleeting moment in scripture and I dare you—whether a parent or not, whether fondly or sadly recalling your childhood—not to be moved by Mary’s reactions.

“The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple” William Holman Hunt - 1862
“The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple”
William Holman Hunt – 1862

Her child had been lost. Reading between the lines, it’s no stretch to think Mary and Joseph were convinced they were lousy parents. How could they be gone from Jerusalem for three (one-two-three!) days without noticing their kid’s absence? Sure they yelled at Jesus, but weren’t they also yelling at themselves?

Well, so what . . . since that temple scene with the elders, before, during, after the parents are desperately searching for Jesus, was just another predictable reveal about Jesus’ divinity. The elders were impressed. The student taught the teachers.

Well, so what . . . it all worked out. But the time the scene concludes, Mary was “cherishing” every thing Jesus did and said. And Jesus, so wrote Luke, would grow “in favor with God and with people.”

At Christmas, where Baby Jesus rubs elbows with perfect artificial trees, Rudolph’s red nose, and people spending gazillions on violent video games, and when some believers read the Bible like a predetermined script, I’m grateful for Mary and Joseph’s parental woes. It wasn’t a Mom and Dad only raising the Son of Humanity, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, but also helping a kid grow up. They worried. They failed. They dreamed. They prayed. They barely made it through some days. At least that’s what I feel when immersed in Luke’s sparse verses. Maybe I’m selectively reading between the lines, adding my literary lies to advocate my understanding of faith.

And yet I’m fine with those “lies.” If you choose to dwell on a perfect and divine Jesus wowing the religious experts, go ahead! But I prefer parents’ worried about their failures and a child’s absence. I imagine Joseph and Mary searching Jerusalem with thumping hearts and panicked eyes. When they find Jesus, they yell at him and embrace him and—divine, human, or both—they are his parents and love him.

Meet us by Mickey Mouse!
Meet us by Mickey Mouse!

Like a good lad, I met Mom and Dad by Mickey Mouse at the appointed time. On that day, they didn’t have to worry about me. Right?

Wrong.

My parents worried about me until their last thoughts and breaths. Of that I am sure. What am I sure about in my faith? I’m human, and will make mistakes. And the divine, the Holy Abba, always searches for me, is always filled with love (and a dose of divine worry) for me.

And for all of creation.

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2 Comments

  1. “Your father and I have been searching…” Is it possible for a person to forget hearing from Gabriel’s mouth that the rabbit died? Yes. Luke is too careful a craftsman to allow a “mistake” of such magnitude.. A woman of some 27 or 8 years in a village, with a mamser could “forget” what no one would believe. With her other children ( how many? 6? More?) she is now entering late middle age, running on worry and love.

    Not many pieces reward multiple readings. This one doers.

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