1st Sunday After Christmas: Jesus the Rebel (Luke 2:41-52)


Lectionary this week: Jesus visits the temple

In the gospel passage from this week’s lectionary (Luke 2:41-52), we find an adolescent Jesus traveling to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph — quite a growth spurt since we saw him in a manger just a few days ago. But unlike the cherubic babe in Bethlehem, here we see the first glimpse of Jesus the iconoclast. For the first time, we see Jesus the rebel.

The passage: Luke 2:41-52 (NRSV)

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Jesus the rebel

On my twelfth birthday, I received my first legitimate rock record. It was “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band — a titillating tune describing the singer’s discovery that his high school crush had become the playmate of the month.

My parents had no idea what the song was about when I put it on my birthday wish list. And that was the point. The song was juvenile and misogynistic. But at the time, I didn’t care. I was making a statement. I was a rebel. Hear me roar.

In Luke 2:41-52, the twelve-year-old Jesus is also making a statement, albeit a far more important one than the misguided statement I made when I was his age.

This wasn’t the family’s first trip to Jerusalem. The passage tells us they made this trip every year, so Jesus knew the routine. In fact, I think he was counting on the routine. He understood it would take time for Mary and Joseph to discover he wasn’t among the large group of travelers and he took advantage of the situation.

“The boy Jesus stayed in Jerusalem.” He didn’t miss his bus or get lost. He stayed in Jerusalem. On purpose. Why?

Because Jesus understood that the kingdom of God isn’t about following the rules or coloring between the lines. It’s about pulling out all the stops to speak life to the lifeless, freedom to the captives and God’s good news to the world.

It’s a theme we see over and over again in his later ministry. Jesus the rebel. Jesus the prophet. When the systems and expectations of the world conflict with God’s agenda, Jesus chooses God’s work every single time.

It’s a lesson we all need to constantly relearn. As a church, we become so blinded by the rules and expectations we’ve created for ourselves (and the world) that we lose sight of God’s agenda. We forget that above all else, we’re called to speak life and freedom and good news.

Jesus the boy and Jesus the rebel show us that sometimes the rules need to be broken and sometimes they need to discarded altogether. Especially when they stop us from doing God’s work.


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