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Following Jesus Today: Raising Children Together

June 10, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 2:48 (NRSV)

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

For context, you may wish to read the whole story from which this verse comes: Luke 2:41-51. This devotion is part of the series: Following Jesus Today.

Focus

Whether we have children of our own or not, we all should participate in the crucial task of raising children to be mature disciples of Jesus. Parents bear a primary responsibility, of course. But we who seek to follow Jesus must share with parents in the work of nurturing, teaching, forming, and loving children.

Devotion

Luke 2:41-51 shows us one scene from the boyhood of Jesus. When he was twelve years old, he went with his parents and neighbors to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. After the festivities, Jesus’s group headed for home, but Jesus remained in Jerusalem. His parents assumed Jesus was with some of the others from Nazareth, so they didn’t fret when they didn’t see Jesus as they began their trip home. But, a day into their journey, Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus wasn’t with their group. Deeply distressed, they hurried back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus.

Heinrich Hofmann, painting “Jesus Among the Doctors” (1884).

Heinrich Hofmann, painting “Jesus Among the Doctors” (1884).

A couple of days later they found him sitting in the temple courts, talking with a cluster of Jewish teachers. In astonishment they cried out, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (Luke 2:48). Jesus answered by saying, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). His parents didn’t really understand his answer, but he went home with them and “was obedient to them.” Later, after Mary calmed down, she “treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:50-51).

This is an extraordinary story, one I have loved from my childhood. I remember vividly the classic painting of Heinrich Hofmann, called in English “Jesus Among the Doctors” (1884). That painting adorned many walls of my Sunday school, no doubt encouraging me and my fellow learners to be like Jesus in our own studies. Of course now I see that painting of a glowing, white-skinned Jesus with different eyes, noting that it fails to represent accurately the ethnicity and humanity of Jesus. But I also hear the story of Jesus among the doctors differently because I am now a parent, not a boy wanting freedom and adventure. I relate to the painful anxiety of Jesus’s parents more than I aspire to be like Jesus the model student.

As surprising as it is to us that Jesus didn’t bother to tell his parents he was sticking around in Jerusalem for a few days, it is perhaps more shocking that Jesus’s parents allowed this to happen. What is this—Home Alone: The Gospel Version? How could Mary and Joseph have headed to Nazareth without Jesus in their sight? What were they thinking? Were they terribly irresponsible parents?

No, not if we consider their cultural context. Luke tells us that Jesus’s parents did not know that he had stayed behind in Jerusalem because they were “assuming that he was in the group of travelers” (Luke 2:44). For Joseph and Mary, raising a child was something to be shared with others, with a community of relatives, friends, neighbors, and fellow worshipers. They had such confidence in the “group of travelers” and, for that matter, in Jesus, that they felt sure he was somewhere among their traveling party. In their time and place, they were living the familiar African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Much could be learned from the story of Jesus and the doctors. But the one thing I want to underscore today has to do with raising children. It is a community endeavor. It’s something we do as a “village.” I know many cultures still practice parenting in this mode. My own culture tends to view childrearing as almost entirely and exclusively something parents do, perhaps with some help from schools and churches. Of course I am not downplaying parental responsibility when it comes to our own children, not in the least. But I do believe we have much to learn when it comes to sharing in the task of bringing up children to be mature adults who know and serve the Lord. Whether we have children of our own or not, we must all participate together in the formation of young people as whole-life disciples of Jesus. This is part of what it means for us to follow Jesus today.

Reflect

As you read the story of “Jesus Among the Doctors,” how do you respond? What strikes you as interesting? Worrisome? Encouraging?

In your own experience, how have you seen the raising of children as something shared by a Christian community? Were there people in your life, besides your own parents, who helped you to grow up well as a follower of Jesus?

In what way (or ways) are you participating today in your community’s effort to raise children well?

Act

In a time when many of us are still social distancing, it may be hard for you to do something tangible in response to today’s devotion. Perhaps you might drop a note of encouragement to parents who are part of your own community, to encourage them in their parental endeavors.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for giving us this snapshot into the family life of Jesus. There is so much in this story for us to reflect upon.

Today, we want to thank you for the fact that raising children is meant to be a shared task. For sure, parents carry a primary responsibility. But they are to carry this with others in their community. So, no matter whether we have children of our own or not, help us to share with parents in their crucial duty. May we find ways to encourage and support them. Show us what we can do with children, to help them grow to maturity as your disciples.

One thing we can do is to pray for parents. This is always needed, but especially in a time of “safer at home.” We can think of parents who have been working full-time, parenting-full time, and taking care of household business full-time. We can feel how tired and overwhelmed they are. We ask you, Lord, to given them strength and wisdom. Help them to find gifts of grace in these moments. Reassure them with your presence. Bring into their lives – even virtually – those who can encourage them and share in their parenting task. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Participating in God’s Work (Psalm 113)


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