Three days

Luke’s gospel moves very quickly, once Jesus is born.  Named and presented in the temple.  Recognized and celebrated by Anna and Simeon, His parents return to Nazareth (by way of Jerusalem), and get back to life “as it was”.  Sure, it could not have been simple to set aside the strange events that overtook them in Bethlehem – makeshift lodging and a birth in less than ideal circumstances; followed closely by the celebrations of a strange collection of shepherds – but back to Nazareth they must go, for that was home, after all.  Nazareth was where their lives and livelihood were.  Nazareth was where Luke reports “…the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.” (Luke 2: 40)

No visitors from the east.  No escape into Egypt.  None of the other shocking or unusual events we associate with Jesus’ early years.  Luke’s gospel dwells on the innumerable things that Mary seems to ponder and ‘treasure in her heart’, and on the way the child “grows in wisdom, and favour with God.”  For Luke, it seems, this is how God operates.  Ordinary events are shown to have deeply sacred (and therefore, extraordinary) origins and effects.  Shepherds first come to believe that this is the child long promised; aging worshippers see through the ordinary veneer of a child ‘presented’ in the temple, and in this morning’s lesson, the family habit of worship is given a radically different texture.

Following long habit, the family is in Jerusalem – keeping festival, as is their sacred duty.  Twelve years they have made this trip, since that first, memorable trip together as a couple; twelve years, during which Jesus grew to the age of unquenchable curiosity.  Travelling in a group – for safety, perhaps, or because the habit included all the extended family, Jesus could easily have lost himself in the crowd,  But a full day into the return trip, his parents discover that their son is missing.  No amber alerts in the ancient near east – and no need, really – Jesus being only one year away from the age which Jewish children are considered responsible for their decisions.  His parents none the less make the return journey, and three days of searching lead them to Jesus – in the temple – with the teachers – asking and answering questions as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

Luke offers this startling (to our eyes) scene with very little fanfare.  Jesus was lost, now he is found; his parent’s concerns make no sense to him.  Once reunited, Jesus is content to return to Nazareth where, Luke affirms that as Jesus grew older, he increased in wisdom and “divine and human favour.”  One thing Luke wants to make absolutely clear; though the main actors in this drama are trying hard to pretend this is a normal life they live, everything about Jesus growing maturity is special.  Blessed by God – noticed (in the best possible way) by others – there is something special about this curious (and usually compliant) young man.  Something that everyone will someday notice.  What it took me some time to notice – perhaps because I think I know the story so well – is how this incident from Jesus adolescence foreshadows the climax of the gospel.

It is a tiny detail – easy to ignore in the excitement of learning that Jesus had a childhood that involved giving his parents moments of anxiety.  “After three days they found him…”  One day’s journey to realize something was wrong, and three anxious, agonizing days searching until Jesus was found.  Whatever else this single moment from Jesus youth is meant to tell us, Luke wants to set us up for the main event – another festival celebration that will involve questions and answers of a different nature, and will provoke three day’s of agonizing grief that will lead to the most unexpected reunion in history.

The next time we meet Jesus in Luke’s gospel is as an adult – meeting John at the Jordan; baptized and blessed by a heavenly voice.  No definitive biography exists that will help us understand what it was like for him to grow up.  Was there a terrible expectation that shaped his life?  Was there a sibling rivalry – jealousy – envy that he had to endure?  Jesus youth is unknowable, but Luke’s brief explanation suggests that nothing in that mysterious youth was unconnected to Jesus’ [purpose].  There are no ordinary events in Jesus’ life, according to Luke – and that is the point.  Any attempt to make Jesus ‘just one of the guys” must be dismissed.  Even at the age of twelve – before he could be recognized as “bar mitzvah – (literally, “son of commandment” – the age at which a Jewish child assumes the responsibilities of adulthood) – Jesus was engaging in adult activities (debates at the temple), and claiming- on his own – fellowship in the household of God.  Three days, his parents search; three days of misery, and no one newly acquainted with Christianity could fail to make the connection between the these three days and the three days between crucifixion and resurrection.

It seems odd to go so quickly from the joy of Jesus birth to his triumph over the grave, but for the gospel writers, the Resurrection story was THE story.  Beginnings were not as important as the new beginning that Jesus represents.  Nothing ordinary about him – nothing simple – and nothing more important than those three lost days.

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