When I was a child and youth, my family used to have family reunions on a regular basis, including all 5 generations of family members. I loved going to the parties because they were always at a restaurant where there was a giant buffet (this was unusual at the time and it was the only place I knew of that had such a thing). I enjoyed seeing my distant cousins, and we had a great time running around outside the restaurant—which was in the country—and just generally getting into mischief. As I got into my teen years, the female cousins began to look actually attractive, and since they were older, they insisted on kissing us on the lips. This was a very good thing to me.
But then there were the embarrassing comments of the older generations: “Michel, how you’ve grown!” That comment made me feel so small because in my own mind, of course, I hadn’t grown a bit in the intervening year. I was the same, so that comment embarrassed and annoyed me. (Of course, now that I’m in the older generation myself, I find myself saying the same stupid thing to my nieces and nephews. Oops!)
But maybe as we all get older, it could be a good thing to have someone say those words to us: “My, how you’ve grown!”—not in reference to the size of our pants, but in reference to our spiritual maturity. Our readings today suggest that maybe on some level we all need to grow up a bit.
We heard part of the story of Samuel, who is at this point in the story, an apprentice priest. He’s serving with and learning from the elderly priest, Eli, in the holy place at Shiloh. He is even wearing special priestly clothing, miniature vestments. (Story of Stefan inserted here.) Samuel was a special child. His mother, Hannah, had been childless, and for years she had prayed for a son, promising that she would dedicate him to God’s service. Finally, Samuel was born—and here he was, serving as a child in the holy place, preparing for a key role in the story of God’s relationship with the children of Israel. The reading ends with the words, “The boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.”
As Luke writes today’s Gospel reading, the story of Jesus at age 12 discussing theology with the elders in the Temple, he obviously has the story of Samuel clearly in mind. Here is another special child—Jesus, born to a virgin, brought to the Temple by devout human parents– being prepared for a crucial role in God’s plan. When a worried Joseph and Mary locate him and ask the inevitable question, “Where the heck have you been, young man!?”, Jesus replies, “Should I not be in my Father’s house?” or “Should I not be about my Father’s business?” (Either translation is correct, btw.) And the story concludes—again with echoes of the Samuel story—“Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
In other words, Jesus grew up. And the question I have to ask myself is: If special children like Samuel and Jesus had some growing up to do, is it possible that I need to do some growing up as well??
Jesus grew up. Here, already, at age 12, he is deeply immersed in the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures and traditions of the Jewish people. But he has still more growing to do, with the guidance of Joseph and Mary.
As this story of the youth in the Temple began, we were reminded that they had gone to the Temple for Passover as usual. It was their custom. In the home of Mary and Joseph, Jesus was raised to love God and to have respect for the teachings of his religion. And these things helped him grow up.
And when he did grow up, Jesus did amazing things! He hung out with the outcasts and with women, proclaiming and modeling the love of God for all and the grace of God which knows no boundaries. He healed, and he taught with amazing insight into God and God’s ways. He raised the dead, he loved everyone, he forgave sins, he served others, and ultimately offered us salvation in the fullest sense of that word, not only in this life but for all time.
The bottom line here is that once Jesus grew up, amazing things were accomplished. So, he wasn’t just being a smarty pants in his response to Mary and Joseph: He really WAS about his Father’s business—learning and growing in his knowledge of what God wanted from him.
And so we find ourselves here, in this holy temple, on a cold winter morning, 5 days after Christmas, worshipping Jesus as Savior and Lord of all! Here we are, with all of our pettiness and resentments and limitations, but wanting to grow as well. We are God’s children now and we live under God’s rule of grace.
Grace is what it takes to grow up, and this process is continual. Whenever we really listen to God’s Word, we grow up a bit more. When we gather at the Lord’s table and receive the Body and Blood of the One who came to serve and save us, we grow up even more. When we realize that God expects something big from us, something that only we can do, and we accept his invitation, we grow up more and more!
We’re living in the afterglow of Christmas, on the threshold of a new year, so what if we just decided to grow up a little bit more? What if we just decided, like the young Jesus, to be “about our Father’s business”? And what is that business? Serving and loving, forgiving and mending, listening and knowing and telling, even if others don’t understand or criticize us for what we do.
And if growing up a bit more is what we really want, St. Paul has some advice about that, heard in today’s second reading:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another,
forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you,
so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the
peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called
in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell
in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;
and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and
spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks
to God the Father through him.