Jesus in the Temple
Jesus was special. After all, he was the Savior of the world, the Son of God, and the Messiah. Still, he was human, and as a human he is the only perfect follower of God who has ever lived. Therefore he offers us our best example in all things. The story of Jesus’ trip to the temple at age twelve provides us with some ways to think about our own discipleship and the discipleship of our children.
Jesus was born, he had a childhood, he became an adolescent, and then he grew into adulthood. He also grew up thoroughly Jewish. We have seen evidence of that earlier in Luke’s gospel, and we see more here. Recall that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and that he went with his parents to the temple on the occasion of his mother’s ritual purification. Now we see Jesus at the age appropriate for his bar mitzvah. He was at about the age that a boy was expected to begin to accept some of the responsibilities of manhood, including obedience to the law. The symbolism and the practices were very important.
We do similar things today. Many parents in our church bring their infant children before us to dedicate them to the Lord. In so doing they pledge themselves to be Christian parents and they ask God to use their children according to his will. We do so knowing full well that the time will come in the child’s life when she or he will have to make a personal commitment to the Lord. Some growing has to take place, but finally every person must make that commitment for himself. I think that it is very important that parents and their church realize the importance of commemorating such events, and our practices of parent/child dedication and believer’s baptism allow us to do just that.
Of course, every child has to grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and Jesus was no exception. Again, he was different and special, but we see some of the same phenomena operating in his life that occur in the life of many attentive young people. We also see some of the same parent/child dynamics that you will see in many loving Christian families. For example, we see Jesus coming to an increased awareness of who he was and what he was to be all about. For another, we see the tension that arises between parents and children as the child clarifies his place in life and the parents struggle with the need to protect and help on the one hand and the need to let go on the other. For another, we see the child having made a huge leap forward but still seeing the wisdom in listening to and learning from his parents for as long as possible and for as long as necessary.
We parents know what Mary and Joseph knew. We want our children to find their life in God and their way under God. We know like they knew that it’s good but it’s hard. We know that it’s worth it.
But there’s something else here we need to think about. It is best, I think, for us to follow a pattern something like I’ve described here. It is God’s intention that a person grow spiritually as they grow emotionally and physically. The ideal situation is for a person to be raised and nurtured by a family at home and at church so that she can learn and grow and be evolving spiritually even as she is evolving physically. The processes work well together. But every situation is not ideal. Some people grow up to adulthood in the chronological and physical senses but not in the emotional and spiritual senses. Their understanding does not progress as it should. Reasons abound and vary. But it is never too late. It is never too late to come into a faithful relationship with God that results in discipleship and obedience.
In an episode of the Dick van Dyke Show, comedy writer Buddy Sorrell, played by Morey Amsterdam, kept making excuses to leave work early or at odd times. Somehow Rob finds out that Buddy has been visiting his rabbi’s apartment at these odd times. He concludes that Buddy is misbehaving with the rabbi’s wife. As it turns out, he has been secretly taking instruction from his rabbi. It seems that Buddy had to start working as a child and never completed his bar mitzvah. That’s what he has been preparing to do, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. In the final segment of the episode, Buddy repeats the words, “Today I am a man.”
It’s never too late. What steps do you need to take in your life so that you can truly say that in the spiritual sense, today you are a woman or a man?