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 4 of a 4-part series. Continuing from Part 3 of “Lessons from Adolescent Jesus”…
The Father’s Adolescent
49 And he said to them: “Why is it that you were looking for me? Had you then not known that I must be in the things of my Father?”
The reason for Jesus’ choice to deliberately remain in Jerusalem so as to dialogue with the teachers of the law is given in verse 49: He was following his Father’s will. It’s the climax of the narration, serving to resolve the drama that was initiated when Jesus chose to remain behind in verse 43, and providing the underlying motivation for the entire episode. For Mary and Joseph, the whole episode gave them an up front and close prelude to the three days without Jesus before his resurrection. For Jesus, this verse is a wonderful and enigmatic summary of his identity and mission: “being in the things of his Father”. This can also be understood colloquially as “in my Father’s house”, but mysteriously really meaning “I and the Father are always one”.
Our “solar system” is a great analogy to describe the various relationships in the passage, and how they are all related to the Father. If the Father is like the sun at the center, and Jesus is like the earth revolving around the sun, then Mary (along with Joseph and the teachers of the law) is like the moon revolving around the earth. I think this image is very insightful: every Christian, as these secondary characters illustrate, are to “act the moon”. That is, their lives ought to revolve around Jesus! And by doing so their lives ultimately revolve around the Father. Mary doesn’t understand Jesus’ answer precisely because she doesn’t see that Jesus’ life revolves around the Father first. So she treasures Jesus’ words and actions in her heart as she discovers the Father behind everything her son says and does.
Hence, the passage definitely highlights the utter importance for adolescents to encounter God as their Father. This is all the more urgent in view of today’s world. Too many adolescents are growing up in broken homes, or falling into tragedies caused by the poisonous pop culture that surrounds them (they literally “breathe it in” all day long). All adolescents, but especially those who are wounded, need to find in their Heavenly Father the source of their existence and the one that gives them true and everlasting meaning and value. He has to become real for them through experiences of grace and love. In fact, God can only feel love for us, and out of love for us he even sent us his only begotten Son to suffer and save us from sin and darkness. He has given us the Holy Spirit, through whom we can enter into communion with the very life of the Trinity.
To conclude this section, I believe the passage presents us with a three step process through which Christ redeems the brokenness of adolescence in general, and adolescents in particular, elevating all things to the level of grace. The process can be summarized as the answer to three relational questions: Who is God? Who am I? Who are others to me? First of all, the passage shows teens that it is Christ that can bring them to a real relationship with the Father in this decisive moment of their lives. Then, it is Christ that transforms them from within, renewing their soreness of heart with his word and enlightening their inquisitive mind with his wisdom. Christ moves them to redefine correctly their relationships, their family, teachers, acquaintances, et cetera, always in light of their relationship to their Father in Heaven, and his will for their lives.
I’ve written about how to help teens learn to pray here: A New Way to Teach Teens to Pray on their Own.
Growth through Obedience
51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother was treasuring all the words in her heart. 52 And Jesus was advancing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Lastly, verse 51 shows us it was not yet Jesus’ hour, so he returns home, willingly subjecting himself to his parents’ authority. Verse 52 then summarizes the 15-20 years Jesus spent in Nazareth after this episode. Quite a bit of that time was vocational. Since teens were taught the specific manual trade their father practiced, Jesus probably learned carpentry and stonework from his foster father, Joseph. Learning a specific trade was actually considered as important as practicing their religion. It was sacred, and there was a lot of wisdom in this.
But there’s a deeper message to these verses. It reminds us of Hebrews 5:8: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered”. By being subject to Mary and Joseph, Jesus learns what really matters in life, that is, to value the things that God values, to follow the will of God, even if to the world it’s insignificant or folly. And God values obedience to parents, more than adolescents may realize.
What Jesus did in Nazareth was to see the spiritual everywhere, in reality itself. He exercised an ability to understand daily life in as far as it reveals the mystery of the Father’s plan. On the inside Jesus was silently preparing himself by seeing everything about his ordinary life under the perspective of the extraordinary mission that awaited him in the future. And he had the memory of those three days as a glimpse of the Paschal Mystery he was called to reveal and fulfill.
Jesus shows us at least three important lessons for adolescents. These are like light posts on which to guide their adolescent years as they grow into adulthood. First of all, Jesus shows them the wisdom of taking advantage of their most precious years so as to invest them for their future: career, family, faith. Second, Jesus shows that it’s not necessary to rebel from parents and detach from society in order to advance one’s vocation. On the contrary, faithful obedience to parents and a gradual immersion into the real world through education are excellent ways to develop virtue, character, and a solid identity and purpose. Obedience truly forges character! And third, these verses remind us about how valuable it is for adults to help adolescents get a taste now of the kind of future they could aim at. This future is one where each person plays a part, seeking to bring about positive change in a world that desperately needs it. Hence, mentors are called to help adolescents live now in an anticipatory way what each teen is called by God to be: a son or daughter of God, faithful to Him in prayer and daily life, firmly hoping in Him, charitable with one’s neighbor, sincere with oneself, etc.
My New Book Coming Out on this Theme
Before I close, I wanted to introduce my new book series. It’s called “The Father’s Adolescent Series“. I’m hoping to take the reader through a four-step journey.
The first step takes the reader from a presentation of the text itself to its historical accuracy. The next step presents the entire passage in a narrative way, diving into its significance. Then, from the story, I’ll move the reader to the allegories that further bring out the meaning of the passage. Part of this step will be to show the reader how the passage presents its own spirituality. It’s a complete Christian way to relate to the Lord that adolescents can follow. Lastly, I’ll expand what I’ve started to present in this blog post, that is, I’ll show how the passage can illumine our understanding of adolescence and youth ministry.
Publishing a book is one more way to evangelize, and one more way to develop the richness of this passage, which is hardly touched upon in academia or literature. Indeed, all of Jesus’ life emanates a deep richness waiting to be explored, and this passage is not an exception. And like I said earlier, although this passage is just 13 verses long (Lk 2:40-52), it covers up to 30 years of the life of Jesus. Even more, the passage is truly a miniature Gospel, through which you can get a unique glimpse of Jesus’ nature, life and mission. Of all the things that could be mentioned about these hidden years, Luke chose this episode in Jesus’ adolescence. We’re truly grateful for that since this is the only passage in the NT where Jesus is an adolescent. What can it say to us about adolescence itself? That’s also part of what this article and my book seek to answer.
So, please keep this project in your prayers! If you’d like to receive a notification when it is published, or if you’d like ongoing updates, click below:
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