Boy Like Me: The Call of Jesus in the Temple

That's me, right about 12.

Well, I was twelve years old in the meeting house
Listening to the old men pray.
Well, I was tryin’ hard to figure out
What it was that they was tryin’ to say.
There you were in the temple
They said, “You weren’t old enough to know the things you knew.”

And did they tell you stories ’bout the saints of old,
Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold,
Stories like that make a man walk straight.

(Rich Mullins, Boy Like Me)

In the Catholic Church and other liturgical denominations that follow a regular lectionary of scripture readings, this is the time of year that we hear what little we know about Jesus’ early years. There’s not much there, of course, once the Holy Family returns from exile in Egypt. (They were refugees, after all, and it’s important to remember that in these days).

In his book, “The New Spiritual Exercises in the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Louis Savary writes about the story of the young Jesus being found by his parents in the temple, surrounded by the teachers who were amazed by his knowledge of scripture. The story is found in Luke 2 and includes Jesus’ response to his worried parents, who had been looking for him for several days: “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?”

Although those words vary slightly from translation to translation, Savary writes that most scripture scholars suggest that none of them are very satisfying.  Instead, he recalls a conversation with an Aramaic-speaking tour guide in Nazareth, who suggested that most English translations miss the point of the story. Instead, the guide suggested this as a better translation from the Aramaic: “I heard my Father call my name, and how could I not respond?”

I’m no scripture scholar, but that’s a beautiful and satisfying response. Savary writes that this translation of Jesus’ response to his parents showed that, “Jesus was not simply a rebellious teenager defying the expectations of his parents by staying behind in Jerusalem, nor was he a child prodigy in theology who loved to show off in front of the teachers. He was a young person who had heard unmistakably an overpowering divine call.” (Savary, p 81-82).

Of course Jesus was called, we think. As Christians, we believe Jesus was the Incarnate Word of God. How could he not be called? But the story does not end with Jesus. For whether we live like it or not, we too have been called.  We, too, have a divine spark laid within us that requires a response, a song that must be sung if we are to live the lives to which we are called by God. But as the American playwright Eugene O’Neill once noted, “Most of us die with our own music still inside us.” That is a sad, sad thing that can either inspire change or drive us to despair. The choice is ours.

As we begin a New Year, perhaps the best resolution we can live out is the resolve to answer the call that has been given to us, and that begins by learning to pay attention to our lives and to those things that give us life and joy. For in those moments, we find God and begin to hear a call.

Imagine for a moment that you could ask Jesus what it was like in the temple that day. How did it feel, you ask, to know his call so clearly and surely? Perhaps he might respond like this:

“I guess for me there was never a time when I wasn’t somehow aware of the call, for there was always an urge to be about my Father’s work and to somehow respond to that because I knew somewhere deep it was just what I was supposed to do. Sitting in the temple with the teachers, I wasn’t even aware that my parents might be looking for me, wasn’t aware of the time passing, wasn’t aware of much of anything outside that circle in the corner of the temple. I was too caught up in the flow of what was so rightly and naturally happening that nothing else existed or mattered for that period of time. In that flow of words — of prayer, scripture, holy storytelling and sacred story listening — I was able to see my true self, my reason for being. Surrounded by the Spirit and trusted friends and teachers, I was enclosed in a cloud of joy and purpose and meaning. I was about my Father’s business. I was responding as best as I could to the call of the voice.”

Ask yourself in silence:

What do you know about yourself somewhere deep? What do you do that seems right and natural? Complete this line: God created me to…

As Rich Mullins’ powerful song quoted above imagines for us, Jesus was once a young person just like all of us. You can view a performance of the song by Rich here:

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