In the Lectionary

December 30, Christmas 1C (Luke 2:41-52)

Jesus flips the script on his parents.

In each of the Gospels, the first words spoken by Jesus yield fascinating insights into that portrayal of his life. Mark’s Jesus strikes a bold opening chord: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (1:15). The kingdom remains a central, transformative reality for all who hear and follow, and it forces us to question just where our loyalties truly lie. Matthew depicts Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s question about who should be baptizing whom (3:15). A critical theme of Matthew’s Gospel will be the higher (at times impossibly higher) righteousness to which Christians are called. John’s Jesus speaks first by interrogating two of John’s disciples about what they’re looking for. Sometimes it seems like God is perpetually asking that question of us, waiting perhaps for our answers to improve.

In Luke as well, Jesus interrogates two people about their seeking—but he’s a 12-year-old, and he’s talking to his parents: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This rebuke to Mary and Joseph, like this story in general, both follows the expected order of a pious narrative and startles us with a radical disruption. Jesus is reordering norms and expectations. He is messing with us. And while each of these dramatic, theme-setting inaugural sayings confronts and challenges us, Luke’s is all the more disconcerting because the Savior who is speaking with such authority is still a kid.

Luke sets his presentation of Jesus’ first words in the context of a traditional Jewish religious observance. He concludes the story immediately prior to this one (the presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple) by noting that Mary and Joseph “finished everything required by the law of the Lord” (2:39). Fast- forwarding 12 years, Luke notes that year after year “as usual” the family goes to Jerusalem for Passover. They are good churchgoers, and the setting seems conventional. So comfortable and so regular is this that Mary and Joseph lose track of their boy as they head back home. But it takes them (like us) a while to realize that Jesus is missing from their journey, and they return to Jerusalem to find him.