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Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. – Luke 2:41-47
She was precocious. She asked questions that were presumptious. Cheeky. Improperly assuming knowledge and insight beyond her years. It actually caused me to be a bit afraid – of an 8 year old girl! More than intimidating, it is off-putting. Like I said, Cheeky! Presumptuous. Precocious. What is it with these 8 or even 18-year-old boys or girls trying to tell me how the cow ate the cabbage? (Yes, it is a real figure of speech!) And don’t get me started with 30-year-olds who think they’ve got nothing to learn…not that I’m speaking from experience.
So here is Jesus sitting in the temple, sitting with the teachers and asking them questions! On some level this is like an eighth grader discussing quantum physics with rocket scientists. It’s like a 12-year-old discussing the Genus Apotelesmaticum with a theology professor – although Jesus was living that reality before their very eyes. In this encounter and teaching and questioning Jesus had the inside track. He knew all about it all. He was God in the flesh. And though he still had things to learn, and wisdom to gain, he apparently had insights enough to hold his own.
“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” He made quite an impression. But it seems that he was not thought to be precocious. There is not sense of cheekiness here. Nor is there any apparent presumption on his part – though it would be difficult for God to be presumptuous! Even now, however, Jesus was living out his mission in a state of humiliation (in the theological sense of the term). He, was God, but he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. He appeared in human form, and will humble himself in obedience to God and die a criminal’s death on a cross (cf. Philippians 2).
On the mountain of transfiguration Jesus’ deity would leak out for Peter, James, and John to see. And now, if they would recognize it, the true identity of Jesus as the Son of God was peeking out from behind the curtains. But it is only a peek. He will make nothing of it, except to remind his mom that his Father was the Heavenly Father, and that he would be dedicating himself to his Heavenly Father’s business.
When it comes to presumptuous behavior we human beings have that down to an art. Somehow we get the idea that we can call God into account for his actions toward us. We can question how God is drawing the lines in our lives and the lives of others. We can put God in the dock as C.S. Lewis speaks of. We can act as though God has to answer to us. But he does not.
Jesus would ask questions his whole life and ministry. “What do you think? A man had two sons… What does the Word say? How do you read it? What can a man give in exchange for his soul? Who among you, by worrying, can add even a single hour to your life? Or, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus, as a 12-year-old boy is just now getting started.
What question would Jesus ask you? Would it be a challenge? Would it lead you to repentance? Would it be an invitation? Would he point you to hope? In either case, his questions might well amaze us too.