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.