Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"They did not understand"

Message preached November 7, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Luke 2:41-52

Order of Worship

"Pero ellos no entendieron lo que les decŪa."

            I need to start practicing my Spanish, you know. Some of us are headed to the Dominican Republic next January to visit our sister church there. My "espanol" is pretty rusty, going all the way back to my junior and senior high school days. In preparation for this trip, Iíve picked up a bilingual Bible which places the Spanish and English translations of the New International Version side-by-side on each page. For my daily devotions, I use this book. I hope to bring it into my sermon preparation in the coming months, also.

"Pero ellos no entendieron lo que les decŪa."

            I gotta tell you, Iím a bit nervous about the language barrier between us and our Dominican sisters and brothers. Flying back from the Louisville Annual Conference in 2002, my Spanish dictionary wasnít of much help sitting beside brother Felix Mateo, bringing him back here for a visit. I really didnít understand much of what he was saying to me, and probably vice versa. I wonder if thatís how Mary and Joseph felt when they finally found their son talking up a storm with the teachers in the Temple. Luke says:

"Pero ellos no entendieron lo que les decŪa."

            Oh, excuse me, in English that would be: "But they didnít understand what he was saying to them." Mind you, the barrier between Jesus and his parents at that point was not really a matter of language. He was speaking plain Aramaic. Not English, of course. Nor even Greek, which is the language of the New Testament as we have received it before translating it into our own tongue. No, Jesus spoke to his mother and father (or should I say "step-father?") in their everyday language, Aramaic. Then again, since he had been debating with the rabbis in the Temple, probably in Hebrew, he may not have switched back when his parents arrived - but Hebrew and Aramaic are like cousins. They share some common traits, but theyíre not in the same immediate family, if you know what I mean.

            However, it really wasnít how Jesus spoke, the language he used, that got between him and those who were trying - to the best of their ability - to raise him right. It was more the content of what he had to say. "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. Perfectly understandable words, but from a parentís perspective - meaningless gibberish. "What do you mean Ďwhy?í Thatís what parents do. You donít stay with us, donít tell us where you plan to be, donít even seem to notice we arenít around any more, and you think searching isnít going to happen? Youíre only twelve years old, young man Who do you think you are, Jesus?" Oops! Yes, he was Jesus, and thatís probably the whole point. They didnít understand, but who can blame them?

            Then there was that business of being in his Fatherís house, "la casa de mi Padre." Before we go and wonder how Joseph might have felt at that point, him not being the biological father and all, it might be good to remember that such a statement wasnít all that out-of-the-ordinary. Youíve heard, havenít you, that the prayer Jesus taught, which begins "Our Father which art in heaven," is something a good Jew could pray. To refer to God as "Father," even "Daddy," was not all that unusual. Furthermore, the Temple was, indeed, the "Fatherís" (i.e. Godís) house. No question. Joseph and Mary could really have said the same thing, "we found you in our Fatherís house." Duh!

            Of course, another translation of those words as weíve received them in Greek could shift away from "casa" or "house," and have to do with what God cares about. "Didnít you know that I had to be involved in my Fatherís affairs," Jesus may have said, or "that I must be among those people belonging to my Father?" Such translations are possible. The point is, however, that the words themselves were not really the problem, no matter what language they were spoken in. There was a barrier between Jesus and his earthly parents at this point in the story, a barrier which was only going to grow bigger in the days which lay ahead, as this young man "increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor."

            I gotta tell you, folks, that - aside from this Bible story - things really start happening at this stage in our development as persons (you know, ages 11-14 - the "middle school" or "junior high" years) that work toward separating a growing child from his or her parents. Itís the nature of the beast, if you will, that "ellos no entendieron..." - "they didnít understand..."

            Itís a two-way street, you know. There are things happening within and around a 12-year-old that even he or she doesnít really understand. Those of you who fit that category, you who have been leading us in worship this morning, big changes are taking place, arenít they? You know that. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually - you may never grow as rapidly as you are growing right now ... ever again. It can be more frightening to you than any monster fantasized about on Halloween. Then, again, you could find it exciting - all these changes.

            Do you really understand it all? If you do, you may be the first. Ask any adult and youíll probably find that our fondest memories of growing up ourselves may not be of these particular years you are going through right now. I recall walking through the halls of Cockeysville Middle School before Caitlin began the sixth grade, and being flooded with all sorts of embarrassing thoughts and emotions. I didnít even go to school there, but the lockers and classrooms were enough to bring it all back. If you can believe it, I actually felt sad that my children, Caitlin being the first, had to go through junior high. I sure didnít understand what was going on back then. Would I understand any better now that my daughters and sons were experiencing it all?

            In the Bible story as we have received it, this is the only episode we have been given of Jesus as a young person. Everything else is either of him as a baby, or of the last three years of his life, once heíd already made it to his late twenties. Thatís it. Oh, thereís other stuff out there which didnít make it into the Bible. To be honest, Iím glad it didnít, for much of it is a bit far-fetched, presenting Jesus as some kind of freak - superbaby, wonderboy, powerteen, omegaman.

            The Ďsilenceí of the Gospel story as we have received it about these growing-up years of Jesus is a good thing in my eyes. The message is that, though there was something very special about him, he was still pretty much a kid like every other kid. When I read about him getting in trouble with his parents, all sorts of memories from my own experience flood in, either from my adolescent years or my time now as a parent of adolescents. Do I understand...? Probably not...yet.

            Back to this delightful episode we have received, and it is a delight to see the very human interaction between child and parents here, there is a bit of the smart-aleck in Jesus. Teaching the youth Sunday School class as a substitute last week, the responses I got from some of the young people to my questions werenít all that different. Now, donít hear me saying that Jesus was a smart-aleck, and thus behave like him in good "what would Jesus do?" fashion. (Sharon K., their regular teacher, is probably mumbling under her breath right now, "Thanks, Pete!")

            Itís just that if Jesus were a good, obedient young son of his mom and dad (or step-dad), his response, when his worried parents finally found him, would have been, "Iím so sorry for causing you to return to Jerusalem and find me. I know how painful that must have been. Forgive me. I promise Iíll never do it again. Letís go home." At this point, heíd click his red slippers together three times, saying, "thereís no place like home," and theyíd be magically transported back to Nazareth....

            Of course, this isnít The Wizard of Oz, and this is no dream. This is a real 12-year-old. Thatís part of what this episode is trying to get across - why it, alone from any other story of his growing up, is included in the Gospel story as weíve received it. He was fully a kid. However, as we read it, we get an inkling that there is more going on here. While I canít imagine my own children responding like that obedient Jesus about whom I just fantasized (you know, the unreal 12-year-old), I also canít quite see them responding like Jesus did here. You middle-schoolers are fantastic young people (as your teacher Judy tells me all the time), but you arenít Jesus.

            And thatís okay, because he was one of a kind. Now, our Friends the Quakers say that there is that of God in each person, which I also believe is true. Even so, even at age 12, there was more going on in Jesus than in you or me at that stage. This bit the creeds of Christianity say of Jesus, that he was "fully man and fully God," is somehow playing a role in this episode. How? Well, I donít really understand. Iím in good company. Mary and Joseph were a bit in the dark, also. "Pero ellos no entendieron lo que les decŪa." ... "But they didnít understand what he was saying to them."

            This, by the way, is the last we see of Joseph. When the story picks up down the road, this step-dad is out of the picture, assumed dead. Life is like that sometimes, something thatís hard to understand. My own father was gone before I turned thirty. But not before he made a profound impact upon my life. So also Joseph. Jesus was and is still often referred to as the "son of a carpenter," a badge he wore with pride, even though he knew where his real Father was.

            And Mary? It took her a while to catch on. Just like it takes time for us all. Being a disciple of Jesus is a gradual process, you know. Even after we make our big decisions and decide to follow him, saying our "yes" to the Lord in front of the church and being baptized, it takes time. We donít understand everything. Far from it. Through it all, however, there is a growing desire within us to be in our heavenly Fatherís house, to be involved in our Fatherís affairs, to be among those people belonging to our Father in heaven. That, by the way, is where we should be searching for Jesus.

            After Jesus was crucified and rose again, where the story as we have received it starts talking about the birth of the church (not to mention its adolescence - but thatís a whole Ďnother tale), there is this verse that returns us to Mary. Now, she didnít understand all of what happened with her son, as it was happening. Like the rest of us... However, there came a time when she, after pondering all these things in her heart, gradually began to see, as will we. After Jesus ascended to be with his heavenly Father, it says that,

"Todos, en un mismo espŪritu, se dedicaban a la oraciůn, junto las mujeres y con los hermanos de Jesķs y su madre MarŪa."

Or, in our tongue,

"All in the same Spirit, they (the eleven remaining disciples) dedicated themselves to prayer, together with the women and the brothers of Jesus, and his mother, Mary" (Acts 1:14).


online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Luke.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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