Bible Study 12.19.11, 12.22.11, 12.25.11 For Worship 1.8.12

Bible Study 12.19.11, 12.22.11, 12.25.11 For Worship 1.8.12

            Luke 2:41-52

Luke 2: 41  Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.

42  And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom;

43  and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it,

44  but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances;

45  and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him.

46  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions;

47  and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

48  And when they 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 looking for you anxiously.”

49  And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

50  And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.

51  And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

52  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

COMMENTARY

            When someone is born, we don’t know they will be famous.  So no one is writing down their every move.  Of course with cameras and video cameras and the immense amount of record keeping in our modern world, we have a lot more factual material to work with than in the First Century.  Of course just because we have the facts, or what we think are the facts, doesn’t mean we have a handle on the truth, or understand the “meaning” of a personality or an event.  In the First Century, when someone became famous, people would “remember” material from their past and tell those stories and retell those stories.  Memory is, however, famously unreliable.  Stage an event in front of an audience, and then go back several hours later and question people about what happened, and sometimes we might wonder whether those people were in the same room.  Also telling and re-telling stories allows discrepancies to creep in, like when people play the game of telephone.

After the death of Jesus, the early church told and retold stories about the ministry of Jesus.  They recounted sayings they remembered.  They talked about stories of healings and miracles they had witnessed, and after a while they tried to reconstruct the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  But true to their own time, they read back into the stories they reconstructed words and concepts they found in the Hebrew scriptures and the prophets.  For instance, Jesus cry from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” comes directly from Psalm 22.  The mocking of Jesus by the Temple authorities at the cross can be directly related to Psalm 22:7-8.  Casting lots for the clothes of Jesus at the cross can be related to Psalm 22:18.  Now the question the reader must answer is whether these references are the Hebrew Scriptures fulfilled in history, or whether this represents scripture historicized.

The people who had known Jesus and followed him were less concerned with his early life, than with their experience of his living presence in their community of faith.  As that first generation died off, and the followers of Jesus were dependent upon the stories remembered and shared about Jesus there began to be a hunger to know more about Jesus’ early life.

“The rarity of information about the childhood of Jesus in the canonical Gospels led to a hunger of early Christians for more detail about the early life of Jesus. This was supplied by a number of 2nd century and later texts, known as infancy gospels, none of which were accepted into the biblical canon, but the very number of their surviving manuscripts attests to their continued popularity.”

Most of these were based on the earliest infancy gospels, namely the Infancy Gospel of James (also called the “Protoevangelium of James”) and Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and on their later combination into the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (also called the “Infancy Gospel of Matthew” or “Birth of Mary and Infancy of the Saviour”).

The other significant early Infancy Gospels are the Syriac Infancy Gospel, the History of Joseph the Carpenter and the Life of John the Baptist.”  The popularity of these narratives about the early life of Jesus were in part dependent upon fanciful and imaginative miracle stories.  We should note that in the canonical gospels only our scripture today survives as a memory of the growing up of Jesus, and there are no miracles associated with Luke’s story.

There is nothing in the narrative that on the face of it is impossible.  Many families of the time journeyed to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the Temple.  There were three “Pilgrimage Feasts” in Judaism:  Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.  Passover was certainly one of the “pilgrimage feasts,” and perhaps the most important.  Certainly Passover was the most politically volatile of all the feasts during the Roman Occupation, because it celebrated the Exodus from Egypt and liberation from slavery.  The timing of the visit might coincide with the tradition of Bar mitzvah, but in the First Century this ritual did not exist.  But clearly the age of 12 or 13 is important in any culture as children move into young adulthood.

Sometimes people question how parents could leave their kid behind on a large journey like that.  Several explanations present themselves.  First, families traveled as large extended families, aunts, uncles, cousins, a large group, where a twelve year old could immerse himself in the crowd and then stay behind unnoticed.  Another possibility is that in those kinds of caravans, the men would march at the front of the pack to clear the way, while the women would walk near the end of the procession with the women and children.  Since Jesus would have been on the cusp of manhood, his father might have assumed he was back with the women and children, while his mother assumed he was up with the men.

The image of the divine child who stuns the sages with his wisdom is a common theme in ancient literature.  And we should also note that while the text mentions that the teachers were amazed at his understanding and his answers, the teachers are even more impressed by his listen and his questions.  We should also notice that in verse 51 the author stresses the obedience of the young Jesus after this episode, because so many of the apocryphal infancy narratives paint a picture of a mischievous, ornery little cuss, who on occasion was downright mean, killing other children with curses.  I think the church was probably correct in excluding from the cannon the following story:

From the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:

2 1

And the son of Annas the scribe had come with Joseph. And taking a willow twig, he destroyed the pools and drained out the water which Jesus had gathered together. And he dried up their gatherings.
2 And Jesus, seeing what had happened, said to him, “Your fruit (shall be) without root and your shoot shall be dried up like a branch scorched by a strong wind.”
3 And instantly that child withered.

3 1

While he was going from there with his father Joseph, a child running tore into his shoulder. And Jesus said to him, “You shall no longer go our way.” And instantly he died.  (Jesus the serial killer.)

We need to give credit to Luke, that in the desire to create or report on the early life of Jesus, Luke chose a story that is credible and instructive.  Whether factually true or not Jesus in the temple at the age of 12 helps us to appreciate someone who was spiritually extraordinary.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. According to the text how often did Jesus’ parents attend the Passover Feast?

2. How old was Jesus in this story?

3.

According to Jesus in the story why did he stay behind in Jerusalem?

4.

According to the text, where did Jesus spend the night?

5.

How long did it take Jesus’ parents to discover he was missing?

6.

Where did Mary and Joseph find Jesus?

7.

What was Jesus doing, when they found him?

8.

Upon finding the boy, what does Mary ask him?

9.

What did Joseph do with the boy?

10.

Does the text report any other incidents from Jesus’ youth?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Given what we know about Jesus as an adult, what kind of childhood do you think he experienced?

2. Marcus Borg refers to Jesus as a spirit person, someone who was extremely gifted spiritually.  How do you imagine that giftedness might have manifested itself when he was growing up?

3. Are there any other stories in the gospels that would support the contention that Jesus had manifested unusual spiritual gifts in his growing up?

4. What do you think is the significance that Mary and Joseph made the pilgrimage at Passover?

5. What were the significant events in your life around the age of 12 or 13?

6. Do you think our culture needs to re-think rites of passage and initiation?

7. What other life passages do you think exist in our culture?

8. What are some of the ways a faith community could help people observe or navigate life passages?

9. What was the most difficult child raising experience you have had?

10.  Have you known someone as a child who later became famous?

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