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. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. – Luke 2:41-52
We’ve been teaching ESL to some non-native, non-English-speaking people. That is not unusual for ESL classes. But these non-native folks are from Asia and their accents are so strong, that it is very difficult for them to form words we are used to saying every day. The result is two-fold. First of all we cannot understand them very well at all. Second, and because of that, they are embarrassed and possibly also frustrated. I have to say, however, that they have made progress, and their attitude is excellent. It is just difficult for us to understand them from time to time. And they us, I’m sure.
Mary and Joseph are experiencing a difficulty of understanding Jesus of a different kind. He tells them that he must be in his Father’s house. It seems clear to us today that Jesus was speaking of his Heavenly Father, and of the temple as his house. Jesus is the Son of God. His allegiance is to his Heavenly Father. His Father’s house is where he belonged. That’s true even as he will now return to Nazareth the Mary and Joseph and lived in submission to their authority, and as their human son.
I guess they didn’t understand what he said because he was still a young boy. He would need his human parents’ care. He still needed to grow in wisdom and stature, as well as in favor with God and man. So to some degree I get it: his comment about needing to be in his father’s house might seem precocious. Or confusing.
But it also makes me wonder what we might not fully understand of Jesus’ words and life. What might we scratch our heads at? Some things Jesus says are truly confusing. The parable of the unjust steward (Luke 6:1-13) comes to mind. The teaching about the end of the world is confusing to some. And some things Jesus teaches are patently hyperbole. Jesus speaks of straining a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24).
But there are plenty of things Jesus says that are not difficult to understand. Rather than getting distracted with trying to grasp things too confusing or profound, we do better to take to heart those things we do understand.
- Unless you too, repent you will likewise perish. – Luke 13:3
- Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. – John 14:1
- Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? – Matthew 6:27
- What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul? – Matthew 16:26
- There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15:10
- The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel. – Mark 1:15
- Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:29
Martin Luther is to have said, “When you come to a part of the Bible you don’t understand, praise God, pass it by and read on.” Good advice. For every word of Jesus that we don’t understand there are surely 50 or more that we do.