preaching study: luke 2:41-52, pt 2

In “preaching study” posts, I share study & reflection as I prepare the Sunday message . I welcome interaction in this process, so feel free to share your thoughts. All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
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In this passage, Luke gives us a glimpse of Jesus as a boy. Significantly, Mary and Joseph are presented as a devout family (v41-42). They make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival “every year” and when Jesus was twelve years old, they made the journey “as usual.” Jesus has had a good model of devotion to God from his parents. That he is absent during the return trip is frightening. I imagine we could multiply the sinking feeling of standing in the grocery aisle and looking down only to find no one standing there. Even when it’s discovered that the child is right around the corner, the gut feeling remains. Mary’s gut feeling has not gone away just because they found Jesus (v48). Jesus’ response seems cool to her on its surface. His point is important.

In reading commentaries, I find that there are various possibilities for translating the phrase “my Father’s ____.” Is it “house,” referring to the Temple? Is it “business” or “activity” or “affairs,” referring to what Jesus is doing–listening, asking, answering, participating in the teaching activity of the Temple? Luke Timothy Johnson suggests translating it, “my Father’s affairs.” Joel B. Green keeps the NRSV translation “my Father’s house,” but he points to the meaning of the “household” in the 1st century Roman world. It does not only mean place, but it also designates authority. Therefore, Jesus is saying that he must be under his Father’s authority, that is, doing his will and attending to his purposes, even when they conflict with allegiance to his parents. Jesus’ interactions with the Jewish teachers, and his teaching in the Temple (remember, everyone was impressed with “his understanding and his answers,” v47) is activity that flows forth from his being under his Father’s household authority and purposes.

Generously (it seems to me), Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary “did not understand what he said to them” (v50). So we’re not terribly alone in wrestling with what Jesus means here either.

So we come to Luke’s commentary on Mary in v51b: “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” It seems to me that Mary wonders much about what her son will be and do. But I imagine that she has noticed here that he has connected with his vocation, his calling, in life: to be about his Father’s household activity. I imagine that having a child discover and embrace their calling in life is one of a mother’s true joys. Not only that, but Mary must have been proud of how impressed everyone was with her boy.

Jesus is using his gifts and talents in service of his life’s calling. I’ll bet most mothers treasure that sort of thing, even if the experience in the moment includes the tension that was present at the Temple scene. But this is a reflective note that Luke offers us on Mary. It shows us her reflection looking back and pondering the event–what was done and said. The story of Jesus’ life is unfolding before her and she seems intentional about noticing it, paying attention, and enjoying it.

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For part one of this study, scroll down, or click here.

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2 thoughts on “preaching study: luke 2:41-52, pt 2

  1. I wonder what the time frame of Mary’s treasuring is. It seems to this might be an instance where Mary treasured these things later in her life.

    If I had to deal with the fact that my son, my beloved son, had disappeared from the face of the earth I would be troubled. I have seen in my church the odd pain parents whose children die before they do experiance. It is something different then any pain I have known. Something that stays with them for years to come.

    As I struggled to deal with a loss like that, these odd moments, moments that remind me Jesus was not just my son, moments where I could identify some greater narative going on. The passage in question strikes me as one of those. A story I would cling to late in my life, one I would share with people who came to visit because it provides a deeper meaning to one of the biggest sources of pain and loss.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Nate. I wonder if this piece of commentary on Luke’s part about what was going on with Mary reflects his insight later on. Tagging on what you’ve said, we need to keep in mind that this is the woman who on the one hand has a glimpse of the vocation and uniqueness of her son (witness the angel visit and her song at the end of ch 1), and on the other hand who faces the death of her son in his crucifixion.

    But you point out his leaving through the resurrection and ascension. That’s a interesting point. Though he leaves in a clear victory (clear to those who realize as such, which we presume Mary would, that is), this is nonetheless a mother whose son is gone before she is.

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