Sunday’s sermon: Great Expectations?

Text used – Luke 4:14-30

  • I want to set the scene for you this morning, so imagine this with me, if you will.
    • Setting: 1st synagogue → large open room, simple table for scrolls in the center, multi-level platforms for seating built into the edges of the room, dirt floor under your feet, wood beam and thatched reed roof over your head, colorful frescos adorn the walls all around you[1]
    • Your family and your neighbors have all gathered for worship → men, women, and children sit intermingled on the benches
      • Talking amongst themselves and laughing before the service begins
        • Sharing news of the village
        • Sharing news of their families
        • Sharing news of the latest escapades of the Roman occupiers
    • Before the service starts, the chief priest chooses members from the congregation to participate in today’s worship → participants are notified by one of the synagogues attendants[2]
      • Some reading → prayers, passages from the law (7), passage from the prophets
      • One translator (if need be) from the biblical Hebrew to a language the congregation could understand
      • One to preach
      • So while you sit there with your family waiting for the service to begin, you watch the attendant out of the corner of your eye as he moves throughout the room, notifying those who have been chosen by the chief priest to read for today. (He glances in your direction, and you quickly look away, silently praying that today is not your day. Your little ones were up at all hours last night, and you don’t feel like you got nearly enough sleep to be able to read the sacred text without stumbling this morning.)
    • Service begins, opening with those ancient words of prayer that have long brought a balm to the soul of you and your ancestors before you → feel yourself relax and become swept up in the cadence of the familiar responses → with your family, friends, and neighbors all around you, you lift your voice to declare the greatness of God
    • Readings begin
      • One by one, men and women rise to read the 7 passages of the law, interpreted now and again into Aramaic by yet another of your neighbors
      • Then, you see a young man stand up. He’s toward the front of the congregation, so you can’t immediately see his face as he stands and walks toward the attendant and reaches out his hand to take the scroll of the prophets, but when he turns around, you recognize this man. He’s the carpenter’s son – Joseph’s boy. And you find yourself excited. This is that Jesus that everyone’s been whispering about. You’ve heard about the things that this young man has been doing throughout the region – teaching, healing, and so on. As he begins to read, you recognize the words of the prophet Isaiah, though you realize something about them sounds just a bit different today. The words aren’t quite the same, and something about the way Joseph’s son reads them grabs your attention like nothing ever has before. There is conviction in his voice. There is a power in his voice. There is a tone of understanding and comprehension that lends itself to confidence. Somehow, he makes you believe that he knows what he’s reading in a way no one ever has before. And when he’s done reading, he rolls the scroll back up, hands it back to the attendant, and goes back and sits down … but you and the rest of those in the synagogue with you can tell that he is not finished.
    • Jesus begins to speak: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”[3] → And you feel excitement rush through you because you know what this means. Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah – the warrior king from the line of David who would marshal the nation of Israel behind him, storm the Roman oppressors, and finally bring a new freedom to his people … your people. Your heart soars at the thought of finally being free! But Jesus is not done: “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’ But I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown.”[4]
      • Jesus continues his speech about how the great prophets Elijah and Elisha both performed incredible miracles for Others … for Outsiders … not for the people of Israel but for foreigners and strangers → And something in your spirit breaks a little out of sheer and utter disappointment. Clearly, this mere local can’t be the Messiah. He hasn’t come to deliver you all from bondage to freedom. He won’t even help his own neighbors and family out with a little healing and a few well-placed miracles!
    • And you start to hear the muttering and grumbling among those around you rise in volume and fervor. They’re disappointed just like you are. They’re frustrated just like you are. They’re angry just like you are. And as the temper within the crowd continues to rise, everyone begins to rise and to crowd Jesus out of the synagogue. If he doesn’t want to help those who nurtured him and taught him and watched him grow into a man, fine! Nazareth doesn’t need radicals like him. Nazareth doesn’t want radicals like him around causing trouble and making claims he can’t back up!
      • You follow the crowd – which is getting angrier by the minute – as they herd Jesus out of town → realize they’re leading him to the top of one of many rocky outcropping around the city → realize that some in the crowd are so worked up by Jesus’ words that they’re getting ready to throw him off the cliff, something that definitely makes you uncomfortable → But before you can think what to do, you realize that Jesus has somehow passed through the angry mob unscathed and is walking away. You were standing right here. He must have walked right past you. And yet you have no idea what happened. And as you watch him walk slowly and deliberately down the hill and away from Nazareth, you can’t help but wonder: Who is this Jesus, really? What is he doing? What is he about?
  • To understand this passage best, we need to understand the context a bit more, so let’s do a little digging
    • First, let’s talk about the timeline of things a little bit.
      • Luke’s gospel (what we just read): story appears directly after Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness → Jesus gets up out of the waters of the River Jordan after being baptized by John and goes immediately out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights of fasting, praying, and temptation by Satan.[5]
        • From that, we go straight into today’s passage: Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read.[6] → So according to Luke, Jesus did some traveling and teaching around Galilee (presumably by himself because Luke hasn’t introduced any of the disciples yet), then heads back to Nazareth for a bit and has this encounter in the synagogue.
      • Matthew’s and Mark’s versions of this story = a bit different
        • Story comes later in both gospels (Mt: 13; Mk: 6) so Jesus has had more time to build up quite a reputation before he returns home to Nazareth
          • Healings
          • Casting out demons
          • Teachings (parables, etc.)
          • Even squared off against the Pharisees once or twice
          • Already stopped the storm by this time in Mk[7]
          • Already preached the Sermon on the Mount in Mt[8]
      • Even the passage from Luke that we read today gives a nod to at least some of Jesus’ miraculous actions in other places. Jesus himself says to the crowd in the synagogue, “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’”[9] So clearly Jesus already has a reputation.
    • Yet despite that reputation, he doesn’t perform in Nazareth as they’ve heard he has everywhere else. And the hometown crowd is sorely disappointed (to say the least!). → all gospel accounts of this story are harsh … but not in the same way
      • Lk’s account that we read today = harsh in that they try to kill Jesus – text: They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff.[10] → undoubtedly an angry, violent mob
      • Mt’s and Mk’s accounts don’t include this homicidal detail or even an account of Jesus in the synagogue
        • Like Lk: both mention his quote about prophets being rejected in their hometowns
        • UNlike Lk: both include a judgment on the people of Nazareth
          • Mt’s last line for this passage: [Jesus] was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief.[11]
          • Mk’s last line: [Jesus] was appalled by their disbelief.[12]
          • Gr. “disbelief” in both passages is the same word = unfaithfulness or lack of faith → implies more than just an intellectual disbelief or even a simple ignorance but implies an intentional involvement of the heart, a deliberate turning away
            • Gr. word = root of the word “apostate”: someone who renounces their faith
  • This is all important because it helps us understand the distress of the crowds in this passage. They knew what Jesus had been doing (at least to some extent), and with that knowing came some pretty high and ambitious expectations, some long-held and deep-seated expectations, some expectations wrapped up in cultural and religious beliefs. The crowd was waiting for and hoping for and anticipating the Messiah … but not the kind of Messiah that Jesus came to be.
    • Israelite notion of Messiah = proud, strong warrior who would lead them to victory in battle against those who oppressed them (Romans) → return of a king like David
      • Sword in his hand
      • Tactical plans on his mind
      • Battle cry in his throat
    • But Jesus came to save, not just the nation of Israel from the tyranny of the Romans but to save all people from the tyranny of death and a lifetime in broken relationship with God. Jesus came to embody not the power and strength of a mighty warrior but the power and strength of God’s unconditional love and unsurpassable grace. Jesus came not to whip up and exploit the people’s hatred of the Other – the other nation, the other culture, the other’s scattered along the margins of society – but to reach bridge that hatred and reach out to the Other, making sure they all knew that there was a place for them, too, in God’s Kingdom. → that’s where Jesus’ examples come in in his speech in the synagogue
      • Elijah’s miracle saved the widow of Zarephath and her son from starvation[13] → saved an outsider, not a widow of Israel
      • Elisha’s miracle healed Naaman’s skin disease, an army commander from Syria[14] → healed an outsider, not a man of Israel
    • You see, the problem in this story comes not from Jesus or his actions but from the expectations of the crowd – expectations that were both inflated and too narrow at the same time: inflated in their worldliness, too narrow in their holiness. And yet this misguided expectation is exactly the good news that we proclaim: that Jesus came to live among us, God Incarnate, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, extended God’s amazing love and grace to all people, freeing them from all bondage and laying out a path of compassion, inclusion, and hope instead of a path of hatred, retaliation, and fear. So friends, what are your expectations today? What are your expectations for yourself? For your community? For God? And where is God trying to broaden and deepen those expectations? Where is God trying to nudge you to recognize a more encompassing, more grace-filled expectation? Amen.


[2] Ernest DeWitt Burton. “The Ancient Synagogue Service” in The Biblical World, Aug. 1896, vol. 8, no. 2 (Aug., 1896). 144, 146. Found at

[3] Lk 4:21.

[4] Lk 4:23-24.

[5] Lk 4:1-13.

[6] Lk 4:14-16.

[7] Mk 4:35-41.

[8] Mk 5-7.

[9] Lk 4:23.

[10] Lk 4:29.

[11] Mt 13:58.

[12] Mk 6:6.

[13] 1 Kgs 17:7-16.

[14] 2 Kgs 5:1-19a.

Sunday’s service: Reaffirming Our Baptism and Renouncing Evil

Text used – Luke 3:1-22 (embedded in the text this week)

This week, we didn’t have a traditional sermon because everything about this week was anything but traditional. So instead of posting my sermon as I usually do, I’m posting the worship write-up.

Centering Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
As you breathe in, pray, “Lord, make me an instrument.”
As you breathe out, pray, “Of your peace.”

Friends, I tried to write a regular service for today – for Baptism of Jesus Sunday. But after the scene that unfolded in our nation’s capitol on Wednesday, a “regular service” just wouldn’t come. So today we are going to remember the vows made during our baptisms and re-immerse ourselves in the grace of those waters. We are going to read Scripture and some other powerful words of witness, of hope, of healing, of lament. And we are going to pray.

Prayer (based on a prayer from the Book of Common Worship):

            Gracious God, the news of this week has ripped our hearts and torn our souls. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. In the depths of pain and anger, we gather before you, O God, our rock and our refuge. You are our only comfort. You are our only hope. Merciful God, you know the depth of our suffering. We have only begun to mourn the violence and upheaval, the death and havoc inflicted in Washington D.C. this week. Uphold all those who hurt, fear, and grieve, especially the families of those who died because of this violent uprising and in particular the family of Officer Brian Sicknick. Faithful God, surround us with your everlasting arms. Hear our cries of despair, heed our calls for justice, and do not let us lose hope, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, we pray. Amen.

A word before we read our Scripture this morning: You all know that we’re following the Narrative Lectionary right now which means that the passages I choose for each Sunday follow a plan that was laid out years ago. There have been times in the past, especially over this past year, when the pre-designated passage seems to speak powerfully and prophetically to current events. Those are the moments when we feel the thrill of the Holy Spirit stirring close at hand in our worship and in our hearts, and today is certainly one of those days. With the events of the past week in your minds and your hearts, friends, listen for God’s word this morning …          

Scripture – Luke 3:1-22 (translation from the Common English Bible):

1 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 4 This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet, A voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight. 5 Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be leveled. The crooked will be made straight and the rough places made smooth. 6 All humanity will see God’s salvation.” 7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.” 10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.” 14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?” He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.” 15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler had been criticized harshly by John because of Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife, and because of all the evil he had done. 20 He added this to the list of his evil deeds: he locked John up in prison. 21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

I confess to you this morning that preaching after an armed mob has broken into the nation’s capitol with the intent of damaging property, taking the lives of elected officials, and subverting our political process was not a subject that we covered in seminary. Those aren’t even words I thought I’d ever say in American in the 21st century. And yet this is where we find ourselves. Yes, I realize that there were many people in Washington D.C. this week that were there to lift their voices in protest without lifting their hands in anger, but we also cannot deny that there were many, many more who went with the intent of violence and hatred in their hearts. And they carried out that violence and that hatred in damaging and devastating ways – damaging to property, damaging to lives, damaging to the nation’s trust in the system of government that we have upheld for centuries.

I want to read part of a statement for you this morning. This statement was put out by Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the coordinator of the Office of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Incidentally, the physical location for the Office of Public Witness is directly across the street from the capitol building in D.C., but because of the pandemic, all those employed by the Office of Public Witness have been working from home since March. They were safe from the violence and threats that so many others enduring on Wednesday. Here’s Rev. Hawkins’ statement:

Wednesday, January 6, marked the day of Epiphany, Día de Los Reyes, as the end of the Christmas season. Sadly, on that same day, at 2:15 pm EST, the United States Capitol building was stormed by a mob of insurrectionists intent on disrupting the certification of Joe Biden as president of the United States.  This was an alarming and sobering reality of the divisions within our country and the danger posed by those who are guided by extremist ideology.

… Domestic terrorists attempted to intimidate our nation’s leaders in an attempt to halt the certification. Using guns, clubs, and other weapons, terrorists overran the police and broke into the Capitol Building. They broke windows, spray-painted walls, ransacked offices, and left threatening notes. Two pipe bombs were left outside of the DNC and RNC local offices. A cooler of Molotov cocktails was discovered in a parked car. Members of both houses were ushered into safe locations for their well-being knowing that their lives were at risk. Many are still shaken by what happened.

The Office of Public Witness mourns the loss of life that occurred and we pray for the four families now in mourning.

… These actions were not just an attack on the Capitol Building, but an attack on American democracy. … Epiphany proclaims hope in the midst of despair. Let not the destructive events of [this past week] derail us from our goal of liberty and equity for all. No amount of resistance will quell our resolve to fight for freedom, justice, and democracy for all people.

Our country is changing and there is resistance, much of it through violent acts and rhetoric. But we will prevail because whenever you stand for justice, love and inclusion, you stand with God.

Friends, today is the day that the church calendar designates as “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. Many of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism are elaborate tellings compared to our Scripture this morning. And yet instead of lavishing all his details on the River Jordan and John the Baptist, Luke decides to dedicate his account of Jesus’ baptism to what is happening in the world around Jesus and John at that particular moment: corruption and injustice, dishonesty and intimidation, political intrigue and deception. It almost seems like Jesus’ baptism, a seminal event in the life of Jesus’ own mission and ministry, is but a footnote – an afterthought to which Luke devotes a mere two sentence: “When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.’” By spinning his gospel tale in this way, Luke inextricably links baptism with sacred integrity, with just actions and intentions grounded in God’s love, with a faith that is active and consistent – a faith that talks the talk and walks the walk.

As we hold all of that in our hearts and our minds this morning – what happened at the capitol and God’s word to us in our Scripture this morning and the meaning of baptism – I want to read you the vows that we ask parents/guardians/individuals to make when we baptize:

(From the Book of Common Worship): Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we enter the covenant God established in Jesus Christ. Within this covenant God gives us new life, strengthens us to resist evil, and nurtures us in love. Through this covenant, we choose whom we will serve, by turning from evil and turning to Jesus Christ.

            Questions for the individual or the parents/guardians: Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world? (Answer: I do.) Who is your Lord and Savior? (Answer: Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.) Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love? (Answer: I will, with God’s help.)

In the face of the evil perpetrated in Washington D.C. this week; in the hope of a life everlasting a grace that is greater than all our fears – past, present, and future; in the assurance of a God who is just and merciful who calls us to action in the face of oppression, fear, and hatred, this morning, we reaffirm our baptism in gratitude and in strength:    

Beloved people of God,
our baptism is the sign and seal
of our cleansing from sin,
and of our being grafted into Christ.
Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ,
the power of sin was broken
and God’s kingdom entered our world.

Through our baptism we were made citizens of God’s kingdom,
and freed from the bondage of sin.
Let us celebrate that freedom and redemption
through the renewal of the promises made at our baptism.

I ask you, therefore,
once again to reject sin,
to profess your faith in Christ Jesus,
and to confess the faith of the church,
the faith in which we were baptized.

Trusting in the gracious mercy of God,
do you turn from the ways of sin
and renounce evil and its power in the world?
I do.

Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple,
obeying his word and showing his love?
I will, with God’s help.

In hope, in strength, in conviction, in call: remember your baptism and be thankful. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Lament Psalm Forty-two” by Ann Weems (from Psalms of Lament)

O God, I am struggling
to survive,
preoccupied with dismal
that will not
let me go.
My blood pressure climbs,
and I have aches
and pains
that have no cause except
my broken heart.

Why have you turned
your back on me,
O God?
Why won’t you protect me
against my emotions?

I have nowhere to turn
if not to
I have nowhere to go
if not to your
I have no one to talk to
if you won’t
Break your silence
and speak
to me.

Open your door
so I can
get in.
Turn your face to me
and pay attention
to my problems!

Trouble surrounds me
like a fence
with no
I need eyes in the back
of my head
so I can see
what’s coming next.
I’m worn down from trying
to deal
with one hell after another.
The pain in my mind
leaves no room
for rest.
O God, return me
to a life of
Give me a reason

Can eyes weep
the time?
Can hearts race
and day?
Can minds agitate
Can my soul survive
this assault?
O God, please
stop this revolving door
of emotional oppression!
Stop the outpouring
of unrelenting

O God, on the wings of dawn
you come to my house,
bringing peace
in the palm of your hand.
You open my eyes;
you stand in
my doorway
and invite me
to your house.
O God,
you are my peace!

Hymn – “This Is My Song” (Glory to God hymnal, #340)

Blessing (from the Book of Common Worship):

Go out into the world in peace;
have courage;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.      

And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you might abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sunday’s sermon: Just a Boy?

Text used – Luke 2:41-52

  • I was watching one of the Harry Potter movies this past week (surprise, surprise … I know). It was one of the movies toward the end of the series (Order of the Phoenix[1], for those of you who are Harry Potter fans), and in it, there’s a scene in which Harry is attempting to join in an adult conversation about what to do about the return of Lord Voldemort, the most evil wizard of all time. The conversation progresses somewhat with the adults around the table divulging information about what they think Voldemort is up to and what the resistance in doing one small bit at a time. Then, just as they’re getting to the heart of this information – the really interesting, crucial piece – the mother of Harry’s best friend butts in and bring the conversation to a screeching halt. She says, “No. That’s enough. He’s just a boy!”


    • Implication = because of Harry’s young age, he can’t handle the truth, severity, and danger of what’s happening in the wizarding world → And as a mother, I can completely understand that reaction. Harry may not be her son by blood, but early on in the series, this woman basically adopts Harry since he has no parents of his own. She even says later on this same movie that, while Harry isn’t her son, “he’s as good as.” And parents want to protect their children – from pain, physical and emotional. And that’s all she’s trying to do: protect Harry and keep him from experiencing even more pain and suffering than he already has.
      • Long has age been used as a reason to shelter children → We know that as children grow and develop, their brains also grow and develop, both in their capacity for acquiring and holding on to knowledge as well as their ability to process emotions and increasingly complex thoughts. Often, we say, “He can’t understand that yet,” or “She can’t process that yet.”
        • Happens a lot in our house with conversations with the boys about their little sister → differentiate between the things a 2yo can understand vs. the things a 7yo can understand
        • Exact reason my preference as a pastor is to start the confirmation process as late as possible → cognitive level required for processing spirituality and abstract thought is one of the last to develop in the human brain
    • And yet, we have our Scripture reading this morning – the only story from Jesus’ youth that we find in all of Scripture in which Jesus himself is “just a boy” … but also so much more than that.
  • About the passage
    • Particularly rich narrative → few of the stories about Jesus throughout any of the gospels include this much moment-by-moment detail in the story itself
      • Gives us the time and place: begins in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover Festival
      • Gives us insight into Jesus’ upbringing: he and his family headed to Jerusalem “according to their custom,”[2] so they were faithful practitioners of the Hebrew religion
      • Gives us Jesus’ age – 12
        • Scholar pointed out the significance of this: While it makes sense for Luke to include Jesus’ age to write as specific a history as possible, the age 12 is important. At that age, Jesus is still considered a “child” since he would not have been expected to fully embrace his ancestral traditions; that would happen when he turned 13.[3] → Today, this transition from spiritual childhood to adulthood is called a bar mitzvah (or bat mitzvah for girls). The particular bar mitzvah ceremony as it’s practiced today didn’t start until the 13th Still, that traditional transition to adulthood is ancient – the same tradition Jesus himself would have undergone … would have undergone but had not yet undergone in our reading today. So even Luke is making it clear that Jesus is, indeed, just a boy.
      • Luke’s narrative also gives us an incredibly detailed description of events → Usually, Biblical narrative will give us a few words or a sentence at most about what happened. But Luke details how Mary, Joseph, and supposedly Jesus were headed back to Nazareth with a crowd that had also traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, traveling a full day away from Jerusalem before stopping for the evening. Luke details how Mary and Joseph failed to find Jesus among the group at the end of the day; how they searched for him; how they traveled back to Jerusalem themselves to look for Jesus; how they spent three who days searching before finally finding their missing son in the temple.
        • Can imagine the frantic nature of that search, can’t we? → Three days. They searched the streets and familiar places of Jerusalem – a massive, teeming city compared to their hometown of Nazareth – for three whole days as they looked for Jesus. Days. Three days of not knowing where he was, who he was with, what he was doing, how he was surviving. Can you just feel the tension in your chest? Can you feel the frantic flutter of anxiety and fear and worry in your stomach and your heart? Can you feel your mind racing with Mary and Joseph – racing with all the “maybes” and “what ifs” and “if onlys”?
    • Thanks to Luke, we actually hear Mary give voice to these anxieties when they finally find Jesus – text: After three days they found him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were shocked. His mother said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”[4] → Okay, there’s a lot to unpack in this part of the story.
      • Interesting dichotomy set up in the Gr.: Jesus “listening” to the teachers = verb that implies listening coupled with understanding BUT those who heard Jesus were “amazed,” a verb that implies confusion and not understanding → So while the boy Jesus is sitting there listening to and comprehending the teachings of the rabbis and religious leaders there in the temple, those sitting and observing this strange exchange lack that same understanding. For the first time (but certainly not last), Jesus understands … but the crowds do not.
        • Critical nature of this lack of understanding is further emphasized by the way that verse is structured in the Gr.
          • English transl: Everyone was amazed by his understanding and his answers.[5]
          • But in Greek, sentences aren’t structured in the same way English sentences are. You construct the meaning of the sentence using the various forms the words take (indicative, imperative, 1st person, 3rd person, and so on). Instead of directing the flow of the sentence, in Greek, word order indicates importance, and in the Greek, the very first word in this sentence is that word “amazed.” So the crowds bemused, bewildered amazement is paramount in this story.
      • Next: word that describes Mary and Joseph’s astonishment upon finally finding Jesus in the temple – text: When his parents saw him, they were shocked. → Gr. “shocked” = amazed/overwhelmed
        • Scriptural resource: Figuratively, [this word] means to drive out of one’s senses by a sudden shock or strong feeling, or “to be exceedingly struck in mind.” It means to cause to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed (struck out of one’s senses). It encompasses the idea of wonder, astonishment or amazement. [This word] expresses a stunned amazement that leaves the subject unable to grasp what is happening.[6] → This is the feeling that engulfed Mary and Joseph upon finally finding Jesus. It’s not just the kind of shock that drops your jaw. No. This is the kind of shock that drops your whole body to the floor because your knees have given way and your legs have forgotten how to hold you up.
      • Finally, the exchange between Mary and Jesus:
        • Mary doesn’t hold back – text: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”[7]
          • Gr. “treated us like this” = literally “made us this way” → Mary is literally imploring Jesus to look at the frantic state that she and Joseph are in and truly see them – truly see the physical consequence of his actions. She’s imploring Jesus to see her: all her fear and anxiety, her worry and her concern wrapped up in fierce, maternal love.
          • Gr. “Listen” = special word that is used throughout Scripture – meant to draw attention to whatever comes next → Very often when this word appears in Scripture, what follows is a declaration about God – about who God is; about God’s mercy or salvation; about the One coming in the name of God, and so on. But here, it is Mary using this word to grab Jesus’ attention.
            • Sort of the Biblical, linguistic equivalent of the Mom Stare
            • What follows: “Your father and I have been worried.” – Gr. “worried” = particularly pointed word that implies anxiety and something that has caused pain → Make no mistake, friends. Mary may know that she’s speaking to the Son of God … but she’s also speaking to her son, the boy that she carried and bore through her own body; the boy that she nursed and lifted onto her hip day in and day out; the boy whose skinned knees she kissed and whose dark curls she lovingly patted as he lay sleeping; the boy whom she fiercely loves. He has scared her pretty severely with this action, and she needs him to know it. Mary is not mincing words.
        • Jesus’ response – text: Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?”[8] → I don’t know about you, but in my head, I read Jesus as having one of those maddeningly calm tones here, not disrespectful or unkind … but in the face of frantic parents, maddening all the same.
          • Gr. is interesting here, too – “must be” = interesting combination of two small words that aren’t all that compelling by themselves but, when combined, are very revealing → “necessary” = must be + “I am” = exist, belong, stay → Jesus is literally saying to Mary, “I must be here. I belong here. My existence is here. In my Father’s house.” In this one sentence – really, in these two small, seemingly simple words – Jesus reveals his true identity and purpose for the first time. In the face of fear and misunderstanding, Jesus – young Jesus, the boy Jesus, supposedly-not-yet-spiritually-mature-by-cultural-standards Jesus – attempts to turn everyone’s attention to God: to God as home; to God as central; to God as essential; to God as belonging.
    • But of course, for the first but certainly not the last time in his life, those to whom Jesus speaks do not understand – text: But they didn’t understand what he said to them. Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart. Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.[9]
      • Who doesn’t understand? The implication is Mary and Joseph – sets up the fact that the majority of the misunderstanding about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ ultimate objective is doesn’t come from the crowds or from strangers but from those who are closest to Jesus and love him most → later in the gospel narratives
        • Jesus’ family doesn’t understand[10]
        • Jesus’ hometown doesn’t understand[11]
        • Time and time and time again, Jesus’ own disciples don’t understand
      • Jesus’ response to this misunderstanding = obedience and “growing in favor with God and with people”
        • Gr. “favor” = grace → So even at this young age – even though he’s just a boy – Jesus is already growing in grace.
    • And maybe that’s why Luke chose to include this particular story in his gospel: because it serves as a microcosm of the entirety of Jesus’ life and ministry: calm and grace and obedience in the face of misunderstanding and impassioned reactions to his actions and his teachings. It reminds us that Jesus was, is, and always will be maddeningly and yet grace-fully unexpected.
      • Scholar: [This passage] teaches that God’s wisdom is available to the young as well as the old, which means that we must make room for God to surprise us with unexpected revelations given by unusual messengers. It teaches us that though God’s wisdom and holiness remind us of our limitations, it is precisely within these limitations that wisdom is often revealed. The incarnation represents the moment in which this wisdom enters the human sphere in all its contradictions, so that nothing is left without transformation and transfiguration.[12] → Transformation and transfiguration. From just a boy. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[1] Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, directed by David Yates, screenplay by Michael Goldenberg based on the novel by J.K. Rowling (Warner Brothers, 2007), DVD (2007).

[2] Lk 2:42.

[3] Kyle Schiefelbein-Guerrero. “Commentary on Luke 2:41-52” for Working Preacher. Accessed Dec. 28, 2020.

[4] Lk 2:46-48.

[5] Lk 2:47.

[6] “Astonished (1605) ekplesso” from Sermon Index: Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival. Accessed Jan. 3, 2021.

[7] Lk 2:48b.

[8] Lk 2:49.

[9] Lk 2:50-51.

[10] Mk 3:31-35; Jn 7:1-10.

[11] Lk 4:14-30.

[12] William J. Danaher, Jr. “First Sunday after Christmas Day: Luke 2:41-52 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 168.