After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents 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 searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. Luke 2.46-50.
In this morning’s reading we have the first recorded words of Jesus. He is twelve years old — the age at which a Jewish boy is being prepared to become, at the age of thirteen, a bar mitzvah, literally “a son of the commandment”, and to become a full member of the Jewish community — and as part of that preparation Jesus has been brought to Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph to celebrate the Passover.
But, one full day into the journey back to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph find that Jesus is not with any of their friends and relatives in the large caravan of pilgrims heading north, so they are forced to spend a second day travelling back to Jerusalem to look for him. And as our passage tells us, on the third day they find him in the temple, sitting among the rabbis who teach in the temple precincts.
Rabbinic teaching generally began with a question from the listeners followed by an answer and further question by the rabbi followed by an answer and another question by the listeners … and so on. And these rabbis are astonished at the depth of understanding shown both by the questions that Jesus is asking them and by the answers he is then giving to the questions they are throwing back at him.
But now Mary breaks into whatever debate is going on with a cry of reproach. “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you” (The Message). And so we come to these first recorded words of Jesus. But what are they? The English Standard Version (which is my version of choice and the one I generally quote from in these posts) has, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” but the KJV and one or two others has, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” The problem is that, in the Greek, Jesus merely says that he must be en tois tou patros mou which is literally “in the [thing] of my father”.
I like the fact that there is no particular thing specified. Jesus gently picks up on Mary’s “Your father and I” and identifies his real father as God. From here on in, however subject he must be to them as a good child, his focus, his centre, must be his father in heaven. Yes, he must be in his father’s house in Nazareth for a good many years yet, but all the time he will be in his true Father’s house, represented by this temple in which they have found him. Yes, he must be about his father’s business for a good many years yet — hewing timber, building houses, fashioning yokes for oxen — but all the time he will be about his true Father’s business, represented by the debate with the rabbis which Mary and Joseph have interrupted.
My thought this morning is that what was true of Jesus must surely be true of me. I live here in my house in Bradford but I must always be in my Father’s house, today and every day, talking with him, enjoying his presence, sharing my worries and concerns with him, and giving him thanks and praise. And I go about my business here in Bradford, designing web sites, doing some book-keeping, shopping, cooking and so on; but I must also be about my Father’s business, today and every day, playing my part in bringing in the kingdom, being salt and light, sharing and being the good news of Jesus. Whatever else I do when I “do my own thing”, I must be sure that I am always “doing the Father’s thing” … just as Jesus did.