What is God playing at?

upset little ethic boy looking at faceless father during argument
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His mother said unto him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?”

Luke 2:48

The Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us, but for the first thirty years of his life, we have almost no record of him actually speaking. The episode of “the boy Jesus in the Temple,” recorded in Luke (2:41-52), is the one exception. The old Prayer Book rightly keeps this passage in the readings after the Epiphany, since it marks a key moment where the Word shines forth – yet only Mary begins to understand who He really is. 

It’s terrifying to get lost as a child, but probably even more terrifying for the parents. I recently had such a moment of terror in Nishi-Ikebukuro park shortly after arriving in Japan where I couldn’t find my 7 year-old daughter and ended up shouting for help. I lost her for probably just five minutes, and that was quite enough time to get my stomach well and truly knotted. But when Jesus got lost at the age of twelve, it was for three whole days. So I can understand Our Lady’s mixture of relief and anger when she finds Jesus; her words to the effect of, “what are you playing at? How can you treat us like this?”

I doubt I am the only parent who says that kind of thing to my children. But don’t we also sometimes think, and maybe even say, the same kind of thing to God, too? In Mary’s case, though the realization was still just dawning, she was doing both at the same time. And her son replies: “I am about my Father’s business.” He wasn’t doing woodwork in the Temple, so He wasn’t talking about Joseph’s business. The Word Incarnate can do only the business of His true Father, God. 

So what is this business of God’s? 

First, it is to be in the Temple at the time of Passover, the celebration of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egpyt. So, the Word reveals that God’s work will be to offer Him as the new Lamb of God, a sacrifice for the liberation of the whole world. 

Second, it is to spend three days hidden there, as He would spend three days hidden in the tomb, to be found by Mary alive on Easter Day. So, the Word reveals the fruit of His labour, the gift of eternal life. 

Third, it is to teach the wise – and also to listen to them and ask them questions, too. God’s Word and Wisdom Incarnate teaches by listening. Even our angry questions like Mary’s cannot not exhaust His compassion. 

True wisdom is to join her, and treasure all these things in our hearts. 

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