Spirit ChildPosted: December 31, 2012
The first followers of Jesus had walked with him, talked with him, eaten with him. They witnessed his miracles and listened to his teaching. Those first followers of Jesus had experienced Jesus alive after his death, and they expected his imminent return, when history would come to a conclusion, everything would be made right the wicked would get their just deserts and the righteous would enter into the glory of the Kingdom of God.
As time passed the early followers of Jesus had to refocus their faith. Maybe Jesus wasn’t returning right away. Maybe it was necessary to collect and write down the stories about Jesus and the teaching of Jesus for people who had never seen him, or known him, or heard him. The second and third generations of believers became interested in the life of Jesus before his ministry began. Matthew and Luke produced birth narratives that confirmed the specialness of Jesus and made claims to rival the Roman Empire’s claims about the Caesa
If we read carefully we will notice Matthew’s and Luke’s infancy narratives are contradictory. In Matthew, Mary and Joseph were living in Bethlehem, and they were forced to flee to Egypt, because King Herod was looking for them to destroy the child. When Herod died, Mary and Joseph returned to Israel, but they moved further North and settled in Nazareth, because Herod’s crazy son Archelaus was ruling Judea. In Luke, Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth, and they were forced to travel to Bethlehem in order to pay a head tax. Jesus was born, while they were in Bethlehem, and then they returned to Nazareth their home. These contradictions suggest there was no reliable information about the birth of Jesus. Many subsequent non-canonical gospels told fanciful tales about Jesus as a miracle working, sometimes mean spirited child. For instance in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a playmate dispersed some water Jesus had collected, so Jesus cursed the child and the child died — Jesus the boy killer. In truth the only story to survive in the canonical gospels about Jesus’ youth dates from the time he was Twelve.
Jesus parents were portrayed as pious Jews who made the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. On this particular trip overwhelmed by the Holy City and the Temple, Jesus remained behind, when his parents left to return to Galilee. There were no miracles claimed other than the precociousness of a child who was in the words of Marcus Borg a “spirit person.” He was in touch with the life of the spirit to an extent most other humans are not. He spent his time listening, and asking questions of the teachers of the law on Solomon’s porch. The teachers in their turn asked him questions, for this was the primary form of learning of the day.
The early church deserves credit for including in the canon only a credible story about Jesus’ childhood, rather than stories that couldn’t possibly have been true, or even stories that portrayed Jesus out of character like Jesus the boy killer. By refusing to include highly imaginative stories about the childhood of Jesus the church helped to preserve the credibility of the rest of the gospel narrative.
In the story of Jesus at the age of twelve in the Temple, the early church was affirming the specialness of Jesus. Not as a different category of being, but as a very special human being, a spirit person. When my Institute for Clergy Excellence group met with Bible Scholar Marcus Borg in 2008 he explained that Jesus was able to transcend his ego dominated consciousness in order to see the world around him from a universal or divine perspective. This transcendent consciousness made Jesus a spirit person, a subversive sage, a social prophet, and a movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion. One of the principle marks of Jesus’ ministry was the healings he performed. He was able to reach out and call forth the healing power within others because of his compassion.
SLIDE 7: JESUS INVITED EVERYONE TO THE TABLE
Another important mark of the ministry of Jesus was his feeding of multitudes and his willingness to eat with anyone. Jesus’ world was divided between clean and unclean. This was a ritual caste system intended to divide and give status to those who adhered to the prescribed purity laws.
Jesus spoke against the purity system in sayings like “blessed are the pure in heart” and in parables like that of the Good Samaritan. Compassion not purity is God’s measure of holiness. The historical Jesus challenged the purity boundaries in touching lepers as well as hemorrhaging women, in driving the money changers out of the temple, and in table fellowship even with outcasts. Jesus replaced an emphasis on purity with an emphasis on compassion. The historical Jesus spoke an alternative wisdom in aphorisms and parables that contradicted the conventional wisdom based upon rewards and punishments.
SLIDE 8: JESUS MEDIATED THE POWER OF GOD TO OTHERS
Jesus was so in touch with the life of the spirit he was able to help other people to reach out and touch transcendence. In that way Jesus helped to mediate the power of God to others. Through his touch the very healing power of God flowed through people. But Jesus mediated the divine in community. Healing was a communal practice, restoring people to right relationship with God and other people, often reversing the ostracism of the purity system. The central act of worship in the community of faith Jesus left behind is a communal meal, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at God’s table.
SLIDE 9: TEMPLE WAS ONE OF THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD
Our story this morning attempts to imagine Jesus as a child. Precocious, spirit centered, aware of the great religious foundation of Judaism symbolized by the Temple in Jerusalem it only seemed natural that Jesus would seek to stay in the Temple. Some travelers in the First Century world considered Herod’s Temple to be one of the wonders of the world. There are blocks of solid limestone set into the Western Wall that are so large modern engineers still cannot figure out how the stones were maneuvered into place. For a peasant boy from a provincial village the structure of the Temple would have been truly awesome. The Jerusalem limestone has a slightly golden hue, and Herod pioneered a method of beveling the stones so that when the rising or setting sun would shine on the Temple it glowed with a golden hue. In addition gathered in a covered structure called Solomon’s Porch, the greatest sages of Judaism gathered to teach students, and to dispute with one another. In an age without electronic media or even a print media, oral disputation and discussion was one of the principal forms of entertainment. Again for a poor boy from a small village, sitting and listening to the great sages on Solomon’s porch would have been an incredible treat.
SLIDE 10: JESUS HAD A SENSE OF HUMOR
In our story, when Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus he was sitting among the teachers listening to them and asking them questions. Apparently he was also being asked questions by the great sages, and the onlookers were astonished by the answers Jesus provided. Apparently the adult Jesus had a considerable wit. It is most disappointing that much of Jesus’ humor has been squeezed out of the gospel by mistranslation and a tendency to read his words too seriously and literally.
SLIDE 11: TWO BY FOUR IN YOUR OWN EYE
For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “why can you see the speck of saw dust in your neighbor’s eye, when you cannot see the two by four sticking out of your own eye?” If we can just picture that, it is ridiculous. Jesus intended his metaphor to be humorous. Another ridiculous metaphor Jesus intended to be humorous has serious people, who think they have to read Jesus literally tied up in knots. “If your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off. If your right eye should cause you to sin, pluck it out.” Can you imagine Jesus’ followers pulling out their knives or swords and cutting off their hands? Jesus had a quick wit and a well developed sense of humor.
SLIDE 12: IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?
I can imagine there were some Jesus jokes that have been lost. Like have you heard the one about the Sadducee, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector who walked into the bar? And the bartender said, “we don’t serve your kind!” Or the Sadducee, the Pharisee and the Roman soldier who walked into the bar, and the bartender said, “Is this some kind of a joke?” The lost humor of Jesus.
I can imagine as a child, Jesus was precocious, engaging, quick witted and humorous all traits the sages on Solomon’s porch would have appreciated. He was a spirit child, the charismatic quality that drew people to him during his ministry was already present.
SLIDE 13: LOOKING FOR CLUES TO THE ADULT IN THE CHILD
The early Christians were not unlike us. When someone becomes famous we study stories from their childhood to see if we can discover clues that help to explain the character of the adult they became – George Washington and the cherry tree, Abraham Lincoln reading a book by the firelight. Even when stories may not be entirely factually correct, we still tell them in an attempt to capture the meaning behind the character. The early church was similarly curious about Jesus and settled on our story from Luke about the spirit child who amazed the great sages of the Temple.
SLIDE 14: ISLA YVONNE HAYDEN — SPIRIT CHILD
This morning we are baptizing a special child, Isla Yvonne Hayden. We will promise to walk with Katie in raising Isla and to nurture her in faith. And who knows years from now we may look back see we had a spirit child in the making.