Sometimes I wish we knew more about Jesus as a teenager. Who were his buddies? How did he spend his time as a kid? Did he win every game he ever played? When friends wondered how many stars were in the sky, did he tell them?
I wonder, don’t you?
For whatever reason, the Gospel writers give us precious little insight into the early life of Jesus, so going on wondering is about as good as we can do.
We do, though, get one scene in Jesus’ life between his infancy and his adult ministry. It’s an intriguing aside, tucked into Luke’s careful account, that I think it is profoundly relevant to those of us who work with young people. The scene warrants a closer look.
The story is in Luke 2:41-52. Try to picture it: after joining his family on a dutiful pilgrimage to Jerusalem, twelve-year-old Jesus skips out on the return trip home. Three long days later, during which time his parents frantically search for Jesus among their fellow-traveling friends, neighbors, and relatives, he finally shows up, sitting among the religious teachers, where he’d apparently been all along . . . while his parents went out of their minds with worry.
As a dad of a twelve-year-old, I can identify with Mary and Joseph’s frantic search for their missing kid. “Son, why have you treated us so? We’ve been looking for you anxiously!” You think?! So much for not being anxious about anything. What must have gone through their minds when, after a full day’s journey away from the big city, they realized their son wasn’t with them? And how must they have been feeling when a full day after that, they still hadn’t found him?
What strikes me most about this story, though, isn’t the reunion between Jesus and his parents but rather what he was doing in the temple when his parents finally found him. Think back to what you’ve heard or imagined about this scene. How do you envision it? Most people I’ve asked—even those familiar with the narrative—picture Jesus teaching the elders.
But that’s not what he was doing.
“After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teacher, listening to them and asking questions.”
Jesus wasn’t teaching. He was asking questions.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The theology here is a little complicated. Before jumping to the conclusion that Jesus already knew the answers to the questions he was asking, keep in mind that in verse 52 we’re told that from this point on in his life, he continued to grow in wisdom. Jesus asked genuine questions with the goal of gaining insight. Jesus learned. And the teachers were amazed at his understanding.
I thank God for this little story and for the permission it gives you and me—as well as the kids we work with—to ask questions, too.
Do you, like Jesus, have teachers to sit amongst and ask questions?
Do you give space for kids to ask questions, whether in Club, Campaigners, or everyday conversation?
Do kids feel safe asking questions in those contexts?
Do you foster curiosity in those you lead so that they continue to ask bigger and bigger questions?
Do you willingly and humbly answer I don’t know to the questions you can’t answer, or do you feel pressured to always have an immediate answer?
I recently met Charlie, a 23-year-old follower of Jesus. During our conversation, he spoke about the many doubts and seemingly unanswerable questions that for years had kept him from following Christ. When I asked him what changed, he didn’t speak about having all his doubts erased and all his questions answered. Instead he told me about a mentor whose own questions were far more profound than the ones keeping Charlie from faith.
The honest questions of a faithful man gave Charlie permission to approach Jesus in faith, in spite of all he didn’t know or understand.
As a young leader, I felt a great deal of pressure to know all the answers and to win the argument as kids voiced their questions. Sometimes I still do. It’s taken wise counsel and discipline for me to learn that it’s okay to let questions hang in the silence for a while, and that often the best response isn’t a neatly packaged answer but rather another honest and inviting question.
Let’s be people who are honest with our doubts, who aren’t afraid to voice our questions, and who give others the freedom to share theirs as well. We’re in good company. Wonder is not the enemy of faith. It’s a prerequisite.
by Josh Powell (Metro Director, Hong Kong)