We are studying Luke 2:39-52 for Sunday, July 12, the story of tween Jesus finally being found by his worried parents at a Second Temple Torah study group. (Whew! It could have been SO much worse.) [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a few questions we might want to reflect on or discuss in class:
When we think of Jesus being a child, what do we think of? For instances, what images come to mind, what scenes, what questions … ? Do we have a sense of where those images, scenes, etc. come from? Where?
All of us have been children, and at least some of us have had children. Thinking back to what we know about children, then, how do those experiences seem to influence what we think of when we think of Jesus as a child?
Do we think of Jesus as having been similar to, or different from, other children we’ve known? Why is that, do we think?
Does any of this seem relevant to the way we think of Jesus as a person, that is, as an actual human being? How?
DO we think of Jesus as a person, that is, as an actual human being? When, where, how, why? What do we learn from that?
We are reading this story because it has something to do with “wisdom,” which we’ve been focusing on for the past several weeks. Did Jesus’s actions in this story display wisdom, would we say? How?
Could we ourselves imitate any of Jesus’s actions in this story? Which ones? Would they contribute to wisdom for us? How, do we think?
Do any of the features of the story remind us of anything we’ve learned about wisdom in our study of Proverbs? Which ones? Does noticing those parallels give us any insights into wisdom? Or, into Jesus? What insights?
There are a lot of different characters in this story (Jesus, Jesus’s parents – mother and father, Jesus’s relatives and neighbors, the rabbis or teachers in the Temple, and bystanders in the Temple). One way of exploring a narrative in Scripture (or any narrative with characters, for that matter) is to try on identifying with the different characters, observing the events from that perspective, and seeing what thoughts, feelings, and insights that exercise brings up. So … let’s try that.
Do we notice that we are drawn to or already feel identified with one of the characters? Who? (Why, do we suppose? Isn’t that interesting?) What happens in the story from that perspective? What is that character’s relationship to Jesus? Their thoughts and feelings about Jesus’s presence – loss – discovery? (Where is all this coming from, do we suppose? Isn’t that interesting??) Are there any lessons to be learned from all that? What are they, do we think?
We could try this with another character … or two …
Jesus’s mother describes her and her husband’s experience in discovering Jesus’s absence and searching for him over three days as “agony” – a word that is also used in Luke to describe the suffering in the flames of Hades (see Luke 16). Any thoughts? Why those particular thoughts, do we suppose? Any other possible thoughts? Why, or why not?
[More personal, perhaps; or, more political, perhaps; also, I confess, my favorite of all these:] Jesus’s response to his mother is “Why were you searching up and down? Didn’t you know I must be [involved] in my Father’s affairs?” (v49)
What things do we think Jesus meant? Why do we think that?
If Jesus must be involved in his father’s affairs, the things that matter to his Father, where would we look for Jesus today, do we think? Why do we think that?
What do we suppose this has to do with the church [“the body of Christ”]? Why do we think that?
[Much more personal …] Do we, ourselves, need to do anything about that? What, do we think?
Overall: It occurs to me there are a couple of ways we could think about this story, and both of them have a claim to legitimacy.
We could approach it as a narrative of concrete personal events, like the kind of family story all of us have in our own families (“that time when …”). For some people, that’s just obvious; but even if we are the kind of readers for whom it’s not obvious, this is that kind of story; we can imagine something like this really happening to real people, and it seems fruitful to think along those lines: what might that have been like? Especially because this is one of the most blatant invitations in the gospels to contemplate the notion that Jesus actually had a life, a human life, like other people’s. It probably doesn’t hurt us to think about that from time to time, especially since it’s our [Christians’] official theology.
We could also approach it as a literary narrative, one that is fulfilling a very specific literary function in a larger work of literature, and pay attention to the things associated with that: characters and characterization, the foreshadowing, the themes of Jesus’s importance, what it means to “search for Jesus,” the impact of Jesus’s presence and absence, the joy of finding Jesus [this is one of the rosary’s joyful mysteries – hello!], … all that.
It seems to me that both of these approaches make sense, and that we needn’t necessarily choose between them, though I think it’s wise to distinguish them. I tried to think of questions from both perspectives.