There is only one Scripture passage of Jesus as an adolescent. What does it tell us about Jesus’ adolescence? What can we learn for parenting and youth ministry? Read here part 2 of a 4-part series.
Towards a Renewed Understanding of Adolescence
For the most part this passage was overlooked as a kind of awkward ending to the infancy narrative of Luke. It was awkward because Jesus was no longer an infant at this point. Yet, it can’t be placed at the beginning of chapter 3 because Jesus hasn’t started his public ministry yet. So the passage was interpreted as a kind of transition from Jesus’ infancy to his public ministry.
Although the passage is just 13 verses long, it covers up to 30 years of the life of Jesus. Think about that. Just verse 40 covers all of Jesus’ life starting from his return from Egypt up to this episode. Then, verses 41-50 cover this particular episode, which in all takes up about two weeks of Jesus’ life. Then, vv. 51-52, just two verses, cover all of Jesus’ life as a young adult before his public ministry. It’s almost as if time slows down and the camera zooms in so we can get a rare glimpse of one moment in the 30 or so years of Jesus’ hidden life. And this is precisely the point: this episode in the life of Jesus has meaning in and of itself. It was included so that it would speak volumes about the 30 or so years that Jesus spent in Nazareth as a child, adolescent and young adult.
There’s a curious parallel between the interpretation of this passage and our understanding of adolescence itself. Before the last few decades adolescence was treated as merely a transitional phase in the life of a person. Now, we know that it’s not just a transition, but it has meaning in and of itself. Its purpose is not only to leave behind childhood and become an adult as soon as possible, but really to embark on a personal journal of discovery. The teen changes because he discovers his own intimacy. He seeks new kinds of relationships with others and with adults, where he’s treated as an equal. He sees meaning behind the things that happen to him and begins to seriously look for his place in God’s plan. He’s not just striving to leave behind his past or move towards the future he wants to build. He’s enjoying all the freedoms and adventures that this stage in life brings along with it.
For more information on this topic, I developed a presentation called A Renewed Vision of Youth. In that presentation I discuss how to understand adolescence itself and its various subtleties, and how teens search for meaning themselves. This is an important analysis if we as adult mentors are going to relate to them fruitfully.
I recommend the following book if you’re interested in reading more on this topic: ECyD Book: 40 Years of Experience Mentoring Teens.
Furthermore, you can read an excellent book on young adult trends here: Must Read for Young Adult Ministry: You Lost Me.
Existential Questions and Answers
46 And it happened that after three days they found him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all those hearing him were being amazed at the understanding and his answers.
The very center of the passage’s concentric structure is focused on verses 46 and 47, when Jesus was in the Temple seated amidst the teachers of the law, asking them questions, and answering theirs. Seated as an equal in their midst, it’s the first of what would be many exchanges with the teachers of the law. Already the 12 year old begins to pose subtle questions that reveal the hidden and perennial truths of God, himself, and his mission. For the first time he presents answers to all those problematic and complex questions that would one day be formulated to trap him into a corner. He lets out the first few rays of wisdom, with which he would repeatedly amaze his audience and reduce them to silence with his penetrating understanding of the Scriptures. This exchange presents him both as the wise Jewish boy of both Jewish pedagogy and as one more of the various Greek prodigy children.
The passage has all kinds of questions. First, for almost three days Jesus was listening and asking questions, and he was also answering the questions of the teachers of the law. Then, Mary asked Jesus a question, and Jesus responded with two more of his own! The passage shows us the value of connecting with teens questions. If we’re going to make a difference in the life of our teens, I believe it’s very important to be able to discern both what they need and want to know, before we provide an answer. Notice that in the passage the questions came first, then the answers. Let’s not answer questions that no one formulates.
For more on this subject, you can see what I did at camp to connect with their questions: Connecting with Teens’ Questions at Camp.
Furthermore, I also present a summary of a new method that helps teens to develop their capacity to ask questions and, more importantly, formulate the right questions: Teaching Students to Ask their Own Questions.
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