Rev. Sarah Buteux
January 3, 2016
Reading from the first Sunday after Christmas
on the second Sunday after Christmas, Year C
“Better the Jesus You Don’t Know…”
It was early on in my relationship with Andrew and I wanted to make a good impression upon his parents. They had very graciously and rather suddenly accepted two foreign exchange students into their home – a girl from Brazil and a boy from Germany, no more than 16, 17 years old – and they had no idea what to do with them.
My semester had not yet started, so to the great relief of my not-yet-officially but destined-to-be in-laws, I offered to take the teens into Boston for the day. We hopped on the commuter rail, visited the aquarium, and then walked around downtown ending up in one of my favorite places, Quincy Market.
How many of you have been to Quincy Market? For those of you who haven’t been there, Quincy Market is a lovely outdoor mall full of shops and food that encircles Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall.
It’s one of those places where it is very easy to lose track of someone because of the crowds, but virtually impossible to get lost because of the layout. So what did I do? I suggested that we split up at one end and meet within the hour at the other.
I’m sure, given our Bible story for today, that you can see where this is going. But what can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Well, roughly 55 minutes later, the girl from Brazil was sitting with me on a bench waiting for the German boy to show up. Roughly an hour and a half later, the girl from Brazil and I were starting to worry. Roughly 2 hours later she was muttering “stupid boy,” under her breath while I was describing what the boy looked like to a police officer. An hour after that she was muttering “stupid boy,” while I was working a pay phone – remember those? – calling collect – remember that? – to tell Andrew’s parents, who – please remember – I had been trying to impress, that I had lost their German exchange student somewhere in downtown Boston.
Now, I have briefly lost sight of my own children, and that horrible empty sinking feeling is not one I would wish on my worst enemy – am I right? – but the feeling one has when one has lost someone else’s child is really not much better.
So I can only imagine how sick and empty and horrible Mary and Joseph would have felt a day’s ride outside of Jerusalem when it turned out that their little boy, who they assumed was somewhere right behind them, was nowhere to be found. I mean they had not just lost their son, they had lost God’s son, and somehow I imagine that made the whole situation feel infinitely worse.
I can still remember how hard I prayed that day in Quincy Market for the German boy’s safe return. But Mary and Joseph? What recourse would they have had?
When you lose God’s son, who do you pray to then?
It’s interesting to me that this is our only glimpse into Jesus’ childhood. Last week he was just a baby. Next week he’ll be a grown man waiting in line to be baptized by John. So it’s worth asking: why this story?
Of all the stories that could have been told about the young boy Jesus, why is this the only one that makes it into scripture? It certainly doesn’t paint Mary or Joseph in the best light. I imagine this was not their finest parenting hour, though in all fairness, I can totally see how this could happen.
I mean, when you think about it, Jesus was probably a really good kid, right? Even apart from the whole Son of God thing, he was the oldest and had most likely been helping out and taking on more responsibility as each new baby entered the family.
I imagine him as the classic parentified child: the kid you could trust to run to the corner store for milk, the one who always hung up his cloak when he came through the door, the one who didn’t leave his sandals in the middle of the kitchen, who actually remembered to turn out the lights, close the fridge, and shut the door.
I imagine he was the sort of kid who suggested that maybe he could do the dishes tonight so mom could put her feet up – which as far as I’m concerned would have established his divinity right then and there.
Mary and Joseph probably found themselves leaning on Jesus more and more as he grew older, sharing things with him you’d normally keep from a child, because there was just something about him that made them feel safe enough to bare their souls.
So when it came to getting the whole family home after the holiday, something tells me that they simply weren’t worried about Jesus. Now James, they probably needed to keep an eye on James, but Jesus?
If Jesus wasn’t front and center minding his own little brothers and sisters on the day they all left Jerusalem, I have no doubt his parents assumed it was because he was somewhere near the back of the caravan minding someone else’s.
I think they lost sight of Jesus precisely because they thought they knew him – knew what he was about, knew where he would be.
And that’s the whole point of the sermon so I’m going to say it again: I think they lost sight of Jesus precisely because they thought they knew him, and I think Luke includes this story because we as followers of Jesus, are apt to do the same.
If this story teaches us anything, it is that the very people closest to Jesus, the ones who thought they knew him the best, didn’t really know him at all.
It’s actually quite fascinating to read back over the story with a close eye for all the places where Mary and Joseph are wrong, surprised, or confused by their son. In this tiny little vignette Jesus stays behind but they do not know it. They assume he’s with the group, but he’s not. They start to look for him but cannot find him. They return to Jerusalem – a whole days journey – and search for 2 more days before they finally locate Jesus. They are astonished to find him in the temple. Mary asks, “why?,” why would you treat us this way? We’ve been “searching for you in great anxiety,” she says. Jesus, cool as a cucumber, thinks it’s obvious that he’d be exactly where he’s been, and yet neither of his parents understand.
That’s eight references to misunderstanding in as many verses followed by that beautiful phrase about how Mary, “treasured all these things in her heart.”
Don’t you just love that phrase?
Have we heard it before? Yes. When? On the night when Jesus was born.
This is the second time we hear of Mary treasuring all these things in her heart and I know it sounds sweet to the ear, but that word, “treasured,” is a very complex word. There’s actually nothing sentimental about it, which is good because honestly there would be something very off-putting about a story filled with this much angst wrapping up so neatly.
That word “treasured” is better translated as “perplexed,” “troubled” even. “Pondered,” would be the most literal translation, but even that word in English isn’t quite strong enough. I think “attempted to fathom” over and over actually comes the closest to catching Luke’s meaning here, as if Mary was reaching deeper and deeper into a mystery whose edges were continually receding just beyond her grasp.