Every Sunday: Contemplative Prayer at 10 am; Sung Eucharist at 11 am
Tuesday, January 1, Ecumenical Sunrise Service on the promenade at 7.30 am.
Wednesday, January 2, Eucharist at 10.30 am.
Sunday, January 6, Epiphany, after the Sung Eucharist, there will be a Reception to celebrate the birthdays of Frank Slaymaker and Tom Tennant. Please bring finger food.
Trinity Quarterly: copies will be available when we have refreshments in the Hall. You may also read it online.
The Sunday after Christmas
Biographies are usually illustrated with pictures from key points in the subject’s life: infancy, adolescence, adulthood, marriage and significant moments in public life.
It’s tempting to read the gospels as biographies of Jesus but essentially their purpose is to point us to an understanding and acceptance of who Jesus is. It is only the apocryphal gospels that try to flesh out the biography of his early life (see the Infancy Gospel of Thomas).
Sunday’s reading from Luke’s Gospel superficially acts as biography: it moves us on from Jesus’ infancy to his adolescence. It describes how Jesus went with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. They travelled with other people and on the return journey they discovered that they’d lost him. Returning to Jerusalem, they found him attentively listening to the teachers. His mother, Mary, remonstrates with him for giving them a fright. His response is that he’s in his ‘Father’s house’.
It’s easy to read into this our own experience of children getting lost on an outing and being panicked about finding them safe and sound. Indeed, the fact that we relate to the story like this is useful up to a point. We sympathise with Jesus’ parents and perhaps see Jesus as an awkward near teenager.
Reacting like this, while understandable, means that we may miss the points that Luke’s gospel is trying to make. First, the story of Jesus’ early life is modelled on that of Samuel in the Old Testament. Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat, is similar that of Samuel’s mother, Hannah. Samuel’s parents made a yearly visit to the temple to offer a sacrifice; we’re told that Jesus and his parents went annually to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. As Samuel grew, he grew in favour with the God; Luke’s Gospel describes how Jesus ‘increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour’. Both Samuel and Jesus realise their calling in the temple.
The fact that Jesus’ parents make the journey annually is significant. Jewish men over the age of thirteen who lived close to Jerusalem (within about twenty miles) were required to attend the Passover festival every year but women weren’t, although they could. Those who lived further for Jerusalem were only expected to make the journey once in a lifetime. So, Jesus’ family, living more than twenty miles from Jerusalem (over sixty miles), showed unusual devotion (and Jesus was too young to be obliged to go). The journey to and from Jerusalem would have taken several days and once there they stayed for a whole week.
So, this story shows how Jesus’ life begins with a strict adherence to the requirements of Jewish faith. Only later will he show openness to marginal groups like tax collectors and Gentiles.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus only visits Jerusalem two further times: when he suffers temptation by the devil, who wants him to test God by jumping from a high point of the temple, and at the end of his life, when Jesus cleanses the temple, is tried and crucified and rises again.
It might appear that Jesus’ parents were careless in not keeping an eye on him. Men and women travelled in separate groups and the children could have been together in either. Joseph and Mary would have assumed that Jesus was with other children somewhere else in the caravan travelling back to Nazareth.
When they found him, he was in the temple listening to teachers and asking questions. At one level he seems precocious: all who witnessed his dialogue with the teachers were astonished at his abilities. He shows the wisdom and authority that he later has as an adult when he teaches in the synagogues and explains scripture to his disciples.
But his mother is upset and says, ‘Son, why have you treated us this way? …your father and I were anxiously looking for you.’ This looks like the normal behaviour of parents who have been scared about the safety of their child. However, it provides the first occasion for Jesus to speak in the gospel and points to the main point of this story.
Jesus’ response is ‘Why were you looking for me?’ Jesus steers his mother and us to question whether we are understanding properly. The same question is asked the angel at the end of the gospel when the disciples find the empty tomb, ‘Why do you look (zeteite) for the living among the dead’. In both cases we have the sense that Jesus constitutes a deeper reality than anyone around him can comprehend.
Jesus continues by saying that it’s necessary for him to be in his Father’s house. This reveals the principal theme of the gospel – to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. This is first told to Mary at the Annunciation and affirmed at Jesus’ baptism; and in the course of the gospel, Jesus often refers to God as his father.
There are also later occasions when Jesus talks about what is necessary for his mission: he must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God; the Son of Man must suffer many things; and he must go to Jerusalem.
This moment in the gospel is also the one when Jesus takes the name father from Joseph and gives it to God. However, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t continue in a normal relationship with Mary and Joseph: the gospel says that ‘He was subject to them’.
And, in the years that followed, he ‘increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.’ This stresses his humanity – he grows to maturity in a normal way – and his growing sense of his vocation.
This growing maturity is grounded in his ability to listen to his teachers and to his inner sense of vocation. This provides a model for those who follow him: we need to be good listeners, both to understand our scriptures and tradition better, but also to respond to God’s call within us.