04 Jan A faithful “I don’t know”
Asking Honest Questions
At a youth group retreat in high school, my pastor sat us down to talk about the Bible. This pastor was new to us, an interim who stayed for about a year until we called our permanent pastor. Unlike most pastors I knew at the time, he was willing to talk to high school students in a different way. We had a really active youth group, went on trips together, did service projects and they started a high school Sunday School class, where I quickly learned difficult faith questions weren’t really appreciated (I may have even been asked to leave one day).
But this pastor was different, and on our retreat he opened up his Bible and opened up the conversation. And I remembering asking a question about people who weren’t Christian and didn’t share our faith. When the Bible said Jesus came to save the world, I wanted to know did that include people who didn’t believe what we believe. And Pastor Harvey thought for a bit then started to answer, but finally stopped and just said, “Dara, I don’t know.”
Believing with Questions
That moment impacted my faith journey. Because my pastor who preached weekly about the good news of Jesus Christ admitted he didn’t have all the answers. And if he didn’t know, then maybe other adults and people of faith and religious leaders didn’t know either. Maybe nobody really knew- and I realized that it was okay that I didn’t know either. There was freedom in not knowing and admitting it. To have faith and still not understand, to see God clearly at work in the world and yet still doubt and be confused. To believe in Jesus and still have questions that remain, that is faith.
Mary and Joseph cared for their son. They knew him- his likes and dislikes, the chores he hated and what time he went to bed at night. And even though they knew their son, there was a lot they didn’t understand. We don’t know very much about Jesus between his birth and his ministry 30 years later. This story of Jesus in the temple offers us a glimpse into his life. He was growing up, doing the ordinary things children do. No miracles or revelations here- no one is being healed or resurrected. And yet there was more going on here.
Jesus Defying Expectations
Although we don’t know much about Jesus before what is written in the gospel stories, we know that he was living as a part of a family, as a part of a community- he experiences love and loss. He gets to know people and learns about the world and when there was an opportunity for him to be in the temple talking to the teachers, he took it. Before this moment, it was only others who had described who Jesus was- the angels, Mary, the shepherds, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna- but now in this story, Jesus is claiming his identity for himself and in the same moment turning over our expectations about him.
You would think the Son of God would be born into privilege, wealth or a position of power- instead he was born in a stable among animals to a working class couple. You would think the Son of God would be a ruler over nations, a great military leader with weapons and armies fighting for him- instead he was a teacher, a preacher and healer who came with compassion and to care for people who were sick and outcast. You would think the Son of God would escape his conviction, fight his way from his torturers, and cheat death- instead he didn’t deny any accusations against him, carried his own cross and died next to criminals. You would think that 12-year old Jesus would respect the authority of his parents.
When it comes to predicting how Jesus Christ will act and be in the world, it isn’t what we expect. Our ideas of power, authority, glory and salvation are turned upside down. And suddenly a carpenter’s son saves us from our sins not because we earned it or deserve it, but because that is how God’s love and grace works. No wonder Mary and Joseph were having a hard time understanding.
Mary and Joseph’s fear response is familiar to any parent or responsible adult who has even momentarily lost track of a child. There was a true story that was a book they turned into a movie, released a couple years ago called Lion centered around that feeling of being lost. The main character really did get lost- he was a young boy in India who became separated from his family and ended up far from home on his own, eventually he was taken in by a couple in New Zealand. The story is told from his point of view and the feeling of being lost is so strong the viewer can feel it- the panic, the fear, the grief, the frustration and the way loss sticks with you. But he never forgot his family and the sense of connection with them. Mary and Joseph feel this loss and it comes out in their words.
And Jesus responds like only the Son of God could, claiming his identity for himself- telling them who he is. Still, Jesus stayed with them. This wasn’t the moment that he started his ministry and he didn’t stay there in the temple among the teachers- this was the time he went home with his parents. He went back to Nazareth and stayed with his family.
God with Us
Sometimes we think that God is far off, away from us doing more important things with more important people. But this story reminds us that Jesus was right there in the middle of ordinary life- living with his family, doing the things you do when we are part of a family, experiencing the things that make us grow. That is where God was. That is where God wanted to be. That is where God still is.
God in Jesus wanted to be with his parents, he wanted to go to the temple, he wanted to be with his disciples, he wanted to heal and teach, he wanted to eat and talk with people he didn’t know and people others told him to stay away from. God wanted to do the same things that we do- take part in the human things that bring us together and the things that break us apart.
It isn’t our understanding or our lack of understanding that changes that. It isn’t our perfect responses or our sense of importance. God is with us in Jesus Christ because of love. In our daily lives, when we are asking those hard faith questions and when we aren’t. God is with us.
As we look toward a new year, as we examine what we have with gratitude, as we remember what we have lost this year and as we see what we have gained, may we hold on tight to those words.
God is with us.
How does that work? I can say with faith and confidence- I don’t know.