Monday, May 9, 2011

Jesus and Parenthood

Preached Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, 2011
Scripture readings:
Isaiah 49:14-16; Luke 2:40-52

Mary was being a very good mother, and she was speaking from the same page for Joseph, who stood at her side as a very good father, when she asked Jesus, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” There was fear, and desperation, and a fine loving-anger in her voice.

And it seems to me that Jesus, the twelve-year-old, was perfectly normal when he wondered if his mother was crazy. “Why were you searching for me?” And we see, in this story, the holiness and the mystery of parenthood in the light of Jesus.

Luke is the only gospel that tells us anything about the childhood of Jesus, and Luke only tells us this one story, right on the edge of adolescence, right on the edge of becoming a teenager (right on the edge of adulthood as the people of Israel counted it).

Some people would like to know more about Jesus’ childhood and younger years, and so would I. But I believe that the story which Luke chose for us tells us everything we need to know. I believe this one single story is the model story that no other ancient story about Jesus measures up to.

Luke shows us that Jesus was no ordinary child. just as he grew up to be no ordinary grownup. At the same time, Luke shows us that even the ones who knew Jesus best (including Mary and Joseph who knew the messages of the angels about Jesus) thought of him as being perfectly ordinary and perfectly normal.

Luke shows us that this was a complete misunderstanding. It was a mistake. Yet Luke will show us that it was the normal mistake that everyone made about Jesus; when Jesus was a child and when Jesus grew up.

Jesus was perfectly normal in the sense that he was not weird or scary. He was a stealth messiah. His camouflage was perfect.

Luke tells us that the typical thing about Jesus, when he was growing up, was not that people were in awe of Jesus, or afraid of him. Luke tells us simply that people liked him. The more Jesus matured, the more he grew “in favor with God and with his fellow humans.”

The word favor, here, is actually the word for grace. But here grace is used in its humblest way. It means there is something appealing here. There is an attraction going on. People liked him because he was likeable. Jesus was appealing even when he was driving his own parents crazy.

There is one more thing I need to mention, before we go on to talk about the mystery of parenthood. Luke, here, also gives us a taste of the mystery of the trinity; because Jesus “grew in favor with God.”

Now, we say that Jesus is God; God in the flesh, God incarnate (which means God in the flesh), God as a human. How can God grow in favor with God?

The word trinity is not in the Bible, but the phrase, “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is found a significant number of times in the New Testament, in various forms; backwards, and forwards, and inside out. The New Testament teaches that there is only one God and yet, at the same time, the Father is God, and the Son is God.

For instance, in the gospel of John, John calls Jesus the Word, and he teaches us that “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1, ff) And in the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (14:9)

There is something in the nature of God that is like a father, or a parent. In Isaiah we read that this fatherly nature loves us with a motherly love that outdoes the love of any mother. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15)

And there is something in the nature of God that is like a son, or a child, or even a servant. There is something that loves to listen, and serve, and obey, and admire, and adore. We see this in Jesus, in this story from his twelfth year.

That humble something in God which is like a son, or a child, or even a servant, is what we see in Jesus. He came to show us His Father and to bring us home to his Father.

He did this by making himself small as a baby, small as a boy scolded by his parent. He made himself small to serve us in our smallness.

He made himself our servant. He served us by doing the dirtiest work in the world. He made himself a carrier of sin. He made himself a sacrifice on the cross, scolded by the holy people of his day who put him there. He made himself a sacrifice for the healing of the sins of the world and our sins too. He carried us with our sins upon the cross; so that we could die to our old self, and live a different kind of life in fellowship with God.

As a boy, Jesus stayed behind in his Father’s house where animals were sacrificed for sins. He stayed behind to learn something from the teachers thin that house because he was going to grow up to be the sacrifice that no other sacrifice could compete with. Without understanding what they were doing, Mary and Joseph’s were the perfect parents to raise such a child.

Now this story in Luke doesn’t tell us the mystery of problem children or problem parents. It tells us things about parents and children that should not seem strange to us. It tells us some things we need to know about being children and parents.

There is something in God that we call Father. A girl named Jenny went away to college and after a few weeks her parents called her on the phone, her roommate answered the phone and the father asked to speak to Jenny, and the father heard his daughter’s voice ask the roommate, “Who’s on the phone?” And the roommate said, “I don’t know, but he sounds parental.”

There is something in God who loves us with a father’s and a mother’s love. Well God created us in his image and there is supposed to be something parental in all of us. The two most important things God has done have required parents. When God created the world, he created human parents (Adam and Eve). They were to be our faithful parents whose job it was to be an example of the absolute faithfulness of God. They were to be parents of a human race that trusted the faithfulness of God and live accordingly. They were not faithful and our world has suffered for it.

When God set up his plan to save human souls, and make a new creation, and bring us back into harmony and peace with him, God made his plan to include parents. These were Mary and Joseph.

God’s plan was to become the perfect human who would willingly stand in our place for our sins: but his design required parents who could be trusted to teach the perfect lesson. The best child in the world needed parents he could count on to be faithful as God was faithful.

It is interesting to notice that the best child, the most trustworthy child in the world, was not understood or appreciated by his parents. They did not say or do all the right things, but they loved him with the best love of which they were capable. And Jesus obeyed imperfect parents and did what he was told because he was blessed with parents who were faithful.

It seems that the child Jesus could be trusted to do what he knew was right. I don’t think that was out of ordinary at all. But you still had to keep an eye on him. Jesus might go out and do something that you had never imagined he needed to be told not to do.

It was like me, when I was five years old. I never actually stuck that coat hanger in the electric outlet, because I had been told not to do it. I was just doing an experiment to see what would happen if you put a coat hanger really, really close to an electric outlet. I knew how to be obedient down to the very letter. I was normally a very good boy. And that is why the good boy Jesus could stay behind in Jerusalem.

Otherwise Jesus meant well. He was subject to his parents. He took them seriously. They were his parents and he was their child.

We can see that Jesus’ mother Mary, and his foster father Joseph, were not perfect parents. They didn’t know what their child was capable of. They didn’t know that he was capable of holding hold his own in conversation with learned theologians. They didn’t know how much their son was capable of identifying with God as his Father. They didn’t know that Jesus, as a twelve-year-old, was capable of leaving them without telling them, when he had something that was really worth doing. Should they have known?

Jesus was only a year away from being bar mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah means a son of the commandments, a son of the covenant. Jewish boys, on their thirteenth birthday, were recognized as being, spiritually, adult. They became officially accountable to God for themselves. And yet no one really thought of a twelve year old as a grownup in the sense of being mature.

Mary and Joseph were not perfect parents, they made mistakes, but they were safe parents. They were faithful and caring. And that made them safe parents.

What children need are not perfect parents, but parents who are safe; who are faithfully and lovingly consistent and caring. Being able to depend on our parents is God’s first strategy for teaching us to depend on him.

Depending on God is hard without that first lesson. God has to resort to other ways that are not so simple. But I think this is part of the grace of God to parents. It is the grace of giving them a great responsibility. What matters is the fact that what God looks for (even in his own family) is not perfection but faithfulness.

They used to call the birth of a baby a “blessed event” and this must be true, because babies and children teach the necessity of faith. It must require a lot of faith to hold a small tender life in your arms without fearing that you will break it. And it takes faith when you realize that you are responsible for caring for this young life even though you realize that it will require much more strength and wisdom than are capable of. Fathers have told me that it was holding their first child in their arms that told them that, now, at last, they really needed to become different people.

There was a pet owner who prayed, “Dear Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am.” The parent of a baby, or a four year old, or a ten year old must pray, “Lord make me the person my child thinks I am.” When they are older, I guess you have to pray, “Dear Lord help me not to be as embarrassing and irrational as my teenager thinks I am.” But if you have made it your priority, as a parent, to be faithful, the embarrassment will not keep your children away from you.

Even when almost grown up twelve-year-old Jesus set off on his own he still depended on his parents. He knew that he could always count upon their faithfulness. And Mary and Joseph came looking for him, and they took him home with them, and they proved worthy of the child Jesus’ trust.

This is a connection that never entirely goes away, no matter how capable we may be of taking care of ourselves. A parent will always be a parent, and a child will always be a child.

This is a mystery. I mean (by mystery) that it is a continual re-enactment of God’s own faithfulness, grace, sacrifice, and devotion.

One of the mysteries of parenthood is that it is never a right. No matter the history of how that child comes to you, that child is always a gift. The child is always a trust. God entrusts you with the care and nurture of a life (an immortal soul) that is not yours except to be cared for in trust.

Here is a life that you will do a lot to shape, and yet that life has a mind of its own. Even in the mother’s womb that child has certain qualities. These come from God and you have to begin with what God has given you.

Parents and their children both play a part in a story whose author is God. The plot is God’s plot. Parents and children are working for God together.

The Bible says that parents have the authority, but they are not to misuse it. (Ephesians 6:4) For parents, children have the centrality. Parents must allow the plan for their lives to change in such a way that their lives revolve around their children. Children are the gift of God, not the parents’ toys. God wants parents to use their heads, and their authority, with faith and love; and most of all with faithfulness.

God is in charge; and faith means entrusting your children to the Lord. We trust that the Lord knows what we do not know. We trust that the Lord can do what we can’t do. That is part of the plan.

The Lord’s Supper is a reminder that we are all part of God’s family. Besides our own family circle, we all sit at a table where the Lord is the host and the parent.

In another way, it is the child Jesus who is the host at this table. Each one of us has a child Jesus in our heart. His presence is small in us, and we have to be responsible to nurture his life in us. We have to see the world through his growing eyes and we have to allow the child Jesus to take us on an adventure that is completely beyond our wisdom and strength. Each one of us is called, in this way, to be the mother or father of this child Jesus.

At this table, the Lord knows that grownups and children all need to be fed and nurtured. We all need a place where we can come home to be refreshed and find rest.

Here is our home, here at this table. We come together as part of a family that is much too large to gather at this one small table, so that we can follow the Lord within our own families.

The Lord wants you to sit down with him, whether you are a parent or a child, or whether you think you are neither. He wants to give you grace in your family, and in the memories of your family, as you learn to be part of the family of God.


  1. Good morning, Pastor Danis,

    Another inspirational article. Great thoughts, too!

    " gather at this small table so that we can follow the Lord within our families!" loved this and every single word of it.

    I'm eternally grateful to the Lord for His great mercy and love.

    Have a wonderful Sunday!

    P.S. i always appreciate your lovely comments!! :) and i really love reading them.
    thank you so much, indeed.

  2. Betty! Thanks for reading and sharing. It means a lot to me. I get a lot out of your blogs. You are a positive voice for seeing life and God's world.