This was a strong tradition, which had managed to develop and maintain its identity through over three hundred years of foreign domination.
So, in the verses between the birth narratives that we heard last week, Mary and Joseph bring the Christ child to the temple to be circumcised, then some weeks later they bring him again to present him at the temple. There, old Simeon sings over the infant Jesus, and the prophet Anna, well into her eighties now, prophesies about the child to everyone around.
Jesus, deeply connected with Jewish tradition.
Now, tradition is always interpreted, usually by family. We get a glimpse of the interpretation Jesus has been hearing all these years when we listen to Mary’s song that she sang last week when she visited Elizabeth.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant,
from now on all generations will call me blessed
He has shown strength with his arm
He has scattered the proud in the imagination,
the dianoia in Greek, the delusions of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and has sent the rich away empty,
He has helped his servant Israel,
according to his promise of mercy to Abraham
and his descendants forever.
Is it any surprise that, with a mother who thinks like that and speaks out like that, Jesus would show up later saying stuff like, ‘go, sell all you have, give the money to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
Or, “do not worry about what you will wear. Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin. Yet Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as one of these. And if God so clothes the grass, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will God clothe you, oh you of little faith.
Or “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” which he says again and again.
Any wonder, with a mother so outspoken in these ways: “Scattered the proud.”
Jesus learns his tradition as part of a family. In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus travels from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, when he and his family would celebrate their people’s escape from slavery.
He’s twelve years old now and they’re coming home from the festival, and his parents do something that parents do all the time. They make an assumption. Jesus is nowhere to be seen. He’s probably traveling with his cousins or his friends from the village like young people often do. Maybe he has requested that his parents keep their distance, since, by their very existence within a square mile of him, they cause him excruciating and permanently damaging embarrassment. Maybe. Anyway, they arrive at end of the day and Mary and Joseph get that feeling of a bottomless pit opening out in their stomachs as they realize: Their assumption is wrong. Jesus is not with his friends. He is gone.
They rush back to Jerusalem, maybe taking three quarters of a day to get there. They search through the city for three days. Imagine their stress. What could have happened to him? He could have been assaulted by bandits, could be laying wounded in some back alley, dying by inches right now; he could have been kidnapped and sold as a slave.
At last they find him in the temple, and Mary speaks to him with a cry that has echoed through parents’ moths across the ages: “Child, why have you treated us this way? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in terrible anxiety.” Jesus responds with another cry that has echoed through young people’s mouths across the ages: “Why were you searching. Didn’t you just know where I’d be?” No. Parents have many super powers, but mind-reading is not one of them. I think we as children come to this realization maybe around age thirty eight.
And then the exchange ends with this last poignant line about his parents: “But they did not understand what he was saying.”
Jesus is part of a family.
God works through tradition. God works through family. Strange and crazy and uncomfortable and even painful as it may be, this is how God draws us into new freedom, new hope, new compassion, new life.