the boy Jesus in the temple

This week’s gospel reading in the lectionary is the account in Luke’s gospel of the boy Jesus in the temple.

Luke 2:41 Now Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 But when the feast was over, as they were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but (because they assumed that he was in their group of travelers) they went a day’s journey. Then they began to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” 49 But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 Yet his parents did not understand the remark he made to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. But his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people.

It’s a lovely little story – the boy that gets lost, the concern of the parents, their suprise at finding him in a strange place. Despite these many details this is not the main thrust of where Luke wants to take us. The key to his story is the last line.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people.

Luke wants us to understand this scene in the light of a precursor event in the Old Testament. The phrase is found in 2 other places in scripture, Prov 3:4 where it is seen as the result of being obedient to God’s wise teaching, and 1Sam. 2:26 where it comes at the end of a section of narrative that Luke clearly had in mind as he tells us of Jesus’ youth.

That Luke should draw from 1Sam. 2 is no surpise, after all Mary’s prayerful song – the Magnificat – draws heavily from Hannah’s prayer of 1Sam. 2:1-10. Not only that but the annunciation to Elkanah and Hannah in 1Sam. 1 is reminiscent of the annunciation to Joseph and Mary. So what is Luke doing as he takes us through 1Sam 2?

The purpose becomes abundantly clear as we read on. The section which our citation closes off is 1Sam. 2:12-25 and tells us of Eli’s wicked sons, in particular

1 Samuel 2:17 The sin of these young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they treated the LORD’s offering with contempt.

In contrast the boy Samuel, who is now residing in Eli’s house, is presented as godly, indeed this is established by the only thing that we hear directly about him, namely,

1 Samuel 2:26 Now the young man Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and also with man.

The difference between the two is stark.

So we return to Luke 2 and see that this little scene is not just about Jesus but, also, has much to say about those in the temple He is speaking to. If Jesus is presented to us as an anti-type of the boy Samuel (as He clearly is) then the teachers He is conversing with are to be understood as anti-types of the sons of Eli. They are not neutral passive observers – they are men who corrupt the worship of God in the temple and use the cultus to further their own ends. As Luke’s gospel progresses this will be seen more and more clearly.

But, against these, we see the Lord Jesus Christ, still a child (see Luke 8:42) and yet wiser than those adults gathered around Him. They should be teaching Him the things of God – that would have been their job had He come with all the other Jewish boys for regular lessons – and yet He teaches them. And still a lad! Not yet adult. Just think what this boy might do when he comes of age…

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