Lent Reflections @ CEC: Questions of Jesus
“I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious anti-neighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.”
― Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent
Scripture context: Luke 2: 41-50
When Jesus was twelve years old, his parents went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover as was their yearly custom. When the family left to return home, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. After a day’s travel, his parents discovered that he was not among their company of relatives and friends, so they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. Three days later, they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Question: Why were you looking for me? (Luke 2:49)
Many people reading this passage for the first time are horrified that Mary and Joseph could have left Jerusalem and traveled for an entire day without making sure that all of their children were present and accounted for. Being of Middle-Eastern descent myself, however, I understand how this could happen. At any significant church-related gathering of my mother’s family (wedding, funeral, christening, etc.), by the time everyone had arrived (great-grandparents, grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, aunts and uncles, first and second cousins and sometimes their children, not to mention friends of the family), there could be a very large number in attendance. (When we were planning our wedding, I distinctly remember having had to invite at least 168 people on my mother’s side alone or risk offending someone!)
So it is not surprising from a cultural standpoint that Jesus’s parents were unaware of his absence. As soon as they discovered it, as any parent who has ever lost track of a child in a crowded shopping mall can attest, they must have been terrified! When they found Jesus after three days of frantic searching, his relieved mother began to scold him in a “how could you do this to us” kind of way (guilt being a common behavior-modification tactic used by mothers in cultures of that region, I can assure you). Jesus’s extraordinary answer indicates that perhaps they should have known all along where and how to find him. And that, friends, provides some important lessons for us.
Lesson #1: Sometimes we can separate ourselves from Jesus, even without being aware of it.
When I was a young person, there was a popular adage making the rounds on bumper stickers and on church readerboards: “If you don’t feel as close to God as you used to be, guess who moved.” Despite its rather snarky, sarcastic tone, this saying conveyed an important truth: if we feel that God is far from us, it is not because he has abandoned us. One reason why the seasons of the church year (such as Advent and Lent) are so important is that they provide a rhythm for focusing our attention on our relationship with God. They ask us to reflect, to prepare our hearts, to take note of where we stand and examine whether we have drifted, pulled off-course by the cares, concerns, circumstances, and activities of our busy lives.
Lesson #2: Finding Jesus requires belief in the nature of his divinity.
When Mary and Joseph went looking for Jesus, no doubt they saw themselves as earthly parents of an earthly son. When they found him in the temple courts, however, his response to their question made it very clear that Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God.
So many people in our world have no problem thinking of Jesus as a great teacher, a wise man, or a historical figure, but they draw the line short of believing that he is God incarnate, the Messiah who came down from Heaven and walked among his people. Even harder to accept is the idea that his death on a cross two thousand years ago still has the power to save people from sin and provide the way to eternal life. Yet, this is the very nature of the Christian faith: the belief that Jesus is exactly who he identified himself to be, the Son of our Heavenly Father, the one we call God.
Lesson #3: The key to finding Jesus is understanding where to look.
When Joseph and Mary went looking for Jesus, it took them three days to find him. (Ah, yes, that symbolic number three, but that’s a discussion for another time.) As obvious as it sounds, they found him in the temple courts because that is where he was, among others of his faith, interacting with them, listening and asking questions.
Even today, Jesus is readily found if we seek him in the place where he is, and the place where he is, according to his own words, is with us. The promise that Jesus made to his disciples never to leave or forsake them still rings true for those who follow him today: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”(Matthew 28:20) Sometimes, especially when we are in a place of suffering, disappointment, or heartache, we may question that promise, but that does not make it any less true.
So why are we looking for Jesus? Perhaps we need assurance that there is hope for us in this troubled world. Maybe we are suffering through a difficult period of chronic physical pain or emotional stress brought on by the loss of someone dear to us, strained relationships with family, or the knowledge that our earthly life may be drawing to its close sooner than expected. Or perhaps we just want to draw closer to God, to understand more about him, to live a life of faith more dedicated to his service. Whatever the reason, when we seek Jesus diligently, we will most assuredly find him, for he is with us – always.
Your word says that we should seek You with all of our heart, and when we do, we will find You. Thank You that You are not hiding, that Your are a God who want to be found by people. You are worthy of all our worship.