Family Matters -- Pastor's Column for 12/28

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

There is only one story from Jesus' childhood that made it into scripture. There were many other stories that did not. You see, like any other towering figure in human history, there were myths and legends that grew up about Jesus. Some of these were collected in books that were rejected by the early church when they canonized the scripture. For Example, in the Gospel of Thomas, there is a story about the boy Jesus molding sparrows out of mud on the Sabbath. When he was scolded for this, the story goes, Jesus breathed life into the birds and they flew away. Another story tells about another boy trying to pick a fight with Jesus, but when the bully went to punch Jesus, the bully's hand just withered up and fell off! Still another story tells about Jesus and a friend playing on the roof of a house. The friend fell off and was killed. Jesus jumped off the roof and brought his friend back to life. All kinds of wild and exaggerated stories were told about the boy Jesus. But the church fathers were suspicious of them. They worked hard to separate fact from fiction. So many stories were left out.

The one story that did make it into scripture is the one that occurred when Jesus was twelve years old. That's the time when a Jewish boy celebrates his Bar Mitzvah. This sacred event marks the transition from boyhood to adulthood. The celebration of the teenage years is a relatively recent occurrence. In ancient times you moved directly from childhood to being an adult. The idea of teenage rebellion was absurd. There was not time. There were too many responsibilities that had to be taken care of.

But when Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem with their son for the Feast of the Passover, things did not go as planned. After the feast, his parents started for home. Unknown to them, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Thinking he was in their company, Mary and Joseph traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for Jesus among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Luke's Gospel tells us that everyone who heard the 12 year old boy Jesus was amazed at his understanding and his answers. His parents were astonished! Mary said, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."

"Why are you searching for me?" young Jesus asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then Luke tells us, Jesus went down to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them. "But his mother treasured all these things in her heart." Luke continues, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

As a parent, I wonder how Mary and Joseph could go an entire day without realizing Jesus was missing. One reason could be that they didn't have to worry about the kind of things happening to their kids that we worry about today. The world has changed. What could go wrong amidst family and friends? It is no wonder Mary and Joseph were upset. Every healthy family has been there, especially as young people approach their teen years.

So let's start here: it is natural for there to be tension between young people and their parents. If it could happen in Jesus' family, it can happen in any family. And Jesus wasn't even quite a teenager yet. Every family has problems, conflict and disagreements. It's inevitable. Young people are not carbon copies of their parents and they must find their own identity. Plus, society today throws them into an adult world while they are still maturing physically, mentally and emotionally.

Maturity takes time. Some young people, like some adults, are able to control their impulses and their emotions better than others. But, while that maturing process is going on, there can be almost intolerable tension between young people and their parents. It's natural.

Just because there is tension, however, does not mean that young people do not need their parents, and vice versa. We need one another. It is true that teens today are better informed than previous generations. But there is still a mountain of misinformation out there about vital issues of importance to young people. Even with all that knowledge there is a maturity gap. Just once in a while, they need someone who is older, who has been there before and now has the perspective to offer guidance. Admittedly, not every parent is a good guide to follow. Parents can be flawed. It is vital to keep the lines of communication open.

Through it all, we all need to know that someone is there for us. We need that at any age. Every young person needs someone to run to, someone who will accept them unconditionally, just as God accepts each of us unconditionally. We are proud of our young and people, and thank God for them.

Sometimes there can be tension, though, in families. That's natural, as we can see in Jesus' family. Still, we need one another. We need to answer the question affirmatively, "Will you be there or not." We need to be there for one another as God is there for each of us.