Luke’s Gospel has stories of Jesus’ childhood, as no other Gospel does.
Circumcision, Naming, Presentation in the Temple, and a story from later childhood: why is all this important to Luke? What is he stressing?
With these stories, the Christ is connected to his history: not just with the shepherds in their fields, but in the very centre of the city, with the Temple and all its historic significance.
Luke has a geographical focus, which later plays out in the ‘journey to Jerusalem’. Luke’s Christ is known in the city, in a way not so much stressed by Mark or Matthew.
This, notwithstanding the elements already noted: the importance of the desert, and the implicit contrasts between elements of the prophetic tradition and the temple tradition.
So what do we make of all this?
Two old people in the temple: Anna and Simeon.
v.34, Simeon speaks of a destiny: the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sign that will be contradicted. I don’t know what this means, except of course that it does imply conflict and upheaval. But Simeon adds that Mary herself will suffer. This is a new element, which goes unexplained.
Anna has been a widow for a long, long time. Why this is explained is again unclear.
Simeon spoke of salvation: a light for the Gentiles and glory for Israel. Anna now links the Christ to all who look for redemption for Israel.
All told, the emphasis here is upon an expected freedom for the nation, and for other peoples as well. There are hints here of the universal hope, announced in the first part of the chapter.
Then follows a short statement about the growth of the child. This is one of the few biblical affirmations of childhood. There is a link here with the angels’ announcement (verse 14): the child grew in wisdom — a key value for Luke — and in favour with God. He is one of those on whom God’s favour rests.
Then, the chapter ends with a story which gathers the infancy narratives together. The story ends where it began, in the temple.
But this time the boy is there, it seems, of his own volition.
The central focus here is on a boy asking questions, listening, questioning, offering answers and asking more. Verses 46 and 47 are a fundamental affirmation of questioning faith.
This contrasts with the popular assumption of a Christ who knows everything and thus has nothing to learn. That idea causes any of us, who honestly know that we have many question, like Mary, like Zechariah, and so on, to think that somehow we are far from Christ, we are less than worthy.
But here the Christ himself is asking deep and searching questions.
I have long wondered about his parents. I remember my own sense of panic, on two different occasions when we thought our son was lost – for all of an hour. How could you go several days and not notice???
Is this naughtiness, on behalf of the boy?
Is this negligence, on behalf of the parents?
I am not sure what to make of the literal facts of the story.
But again, that is not Luke’s purpose.
The heart of the story is the statement, v.49: ‘I must be in my Father’s house.’
Where is this? Is this the Temple? Is it Nazareth? Is it a place, or is it something symbolic?
What is his Father’s house, and his Father’s business?
I would suggest that this is Luke’s ‘trailer’, asking us to follow the narrative and investigate.
We too can ask questions, and quiz our teachers. We too can break away from our parents’ focus and perspective, and see what we find …
Mary and Joseph did not understand, right then. Mary pondered these things, so should we.
There is no easy answer to what this all means.
Where will he lead us, to bin in his Father’s house?
The Father’s house is where the son lives into an inheritance. Where is it? What will it be?
To know this, we must go with him, follow Luke’s story, see where he leads.