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Circumcision of Jesus; Luke 2:20-21, 41-52

Every spring when it was Passover, according to Jewish custom Joseph and Mary made a habit of going up to Jerusalem.  This story tells us that it was the time when Jesus was twelve years old.  Since Jewish children were considered adult at thirteen, this was just before that.

In this gospel account, the story of the childhood of Jesus looks like it is placed in one long line that connects His birth in the stable with His death on the cross.  As far as the location goes, it lies near the one in the story of his birth (Lk 2:39-40), but Jesus’ going up to the capital of Jerusalem at age twelve (Lk 2:41) best overlaps with His final going up to the capital about twenty years later. It was in Jerusalem where the Lord was crucified.

These events took place in Jerusalem.  It was at the time of the Passover when the boy Jesus went with both parents to Jerusalem.  In the same way, it was the time of the Passover when Jesus had His final going up to the capital city.  In addition, the story of the boy Jesus disappearing and then being discovered again on the third day (Lk 2:46) brings to mind that He was crucified, buried and appeared on the third day before His disciples.

And in this childhood scene the words are spoken, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49).The term that is worth extra care to look at is “must”. This is a word spoken by Jesus that appears repeatedly in Luke. For example, this term appears in the predictions of Jesus’ Passion: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Lk 9:22).  It is often said that this term is one that expresses divine necessity or inevitability or predestination. It means to be set in God’s plans according to His will.  If we translate “My father’s business” literally, it means ‘My Father’s things, what belongs to My Father, the running of His household’.  It takes on the meaning of that which pertains to the interests of God the Father and not just things of the temple.  In other words, what these terms indicate is that Jesus was already living in the self conscious awareness at the age of twelve, that He was living in accordance to the divine will and that He was advancing on the path fixed for Him by God the Father. And that path set by God is one that leads to suffering and hardships.  The readers of this gospel will soon come to know this fact since it had already begun back at the manger.  The childhood of Jesus was along the way that led from the manger to the cross.

What’s more, the section at the end of this story is written like this, “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them …” (Lk 2:51).  We have in this the figure of an ordinary boy who lived in service to His parents, just like the children in any household anywhere who are ‘subjected to the authority of their parents’ that is, in obedience to the law to “Honour your father and mother”. Luke expresses in the following simple statement how the boy, who had the self awareness like He did, spent nearly twenty years in obedience to His parents, until His public appearance before the people (Lk 2:51-52).

Jesus’ public activity began at roughly age thirty.  It was about three years after that when He was crucified.  Thus, if compared to the days the Lord’s activity is known, an overwhelmingly long period of time is hidden behind the sentence of “… and was subject to them…” (Lk 2:51).  As for the time when God the Father had intended to do His work of salvation through His son, the greater part of that period of time was hidden from most people’s eyes, as a time of preparation.  Only Jesus knew the time of His preparation.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews the following is said concerning Jesus’ path: “…though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb 5:8). That path of His much suffering was not just the last week of His life.  It began long ago, even from the manger.  For Jesus, the specific place of His daily life where He lived as a child with His mother and father, was above all else, a place where He learned to obey.

No doubt, both Joseph and Mary were devout Jews.  The Lord was raised by a pious family.  However, neither Joseph nor Mary as pious as they were understood the plans of God the Father for Jesus.  Joseph and Mary were not a perfect father and mother for Jesus.  But, God the Father highly regarded the time Jesus first lived with His parents.  He valued it as a time to learn obedience (Lk 2:51).

For this reason we should not forget how Jesus Himself lived, who said to us, “Obey and follow me”. Many of us say we want to obey the Lord, and that we hope to have God use us in His plan; we may pray ‘O Lord, please use me’.  It is a hope and prayer that anyone of us should rightly have.  Yet, when we pray to the Lord for Him to use us, we should not take our eyes off of how Christ had to live according to God’s will.  With Jesus there were thirty years of preparation for only a three short years in public service.  Most of His life was a time of learning obedience.  That’s how it was even for the son of God.  It will probably be much more for us.

Notwithstanding though, in contrast to how Christ prepared, most of us do about thirty years of work out in the public, with three years preparation time.  There are many times when the prayer and hope: ‘O Lord, please use me’, in the final analysis only means, ‘Let me do a great work appreciated and recognized visibly by the public’.

Rather, we should have a life-long teacher-disciple relationship with our spiritual father in light of Holy Tradition, in order that we may learn obedience and the spiritual path to life. According to Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), ‘spiritual obedience is necessary in daily life. To prefer the will of another to your own. To accept with a positive attitude everything your spiritual father, or your brother or sister, asks of you. In this way, little by little an atmosphere will be created within you and around you in which your heart will become very gentle, very sensitive to every inner movement, to every spiritual variation’. It is only by permanent attentiveness to our brother and our sister that we will succeed in developing in ourselves a sort of radar, by which we will feel what others are feeling, their will, their spiritual state. And contrariwise, if we do not practise obedience, if we seek first of all our own comfort, we will be separated from others, and then there will be a state of war.  Hence we must not discount preparation time and ongoing spiritual guidance.

Ultimately, the way God uses us may be for a lifetime, or it may be for an instant as in a lightning flash.  But, if the majority of our life is a time of learning obedience and is preparation for an instant in following God, and even if it never appears before the public eye, or never remains in anyone’s remembrance, or isn’t left in any record of any kind, the time spent will surely have value in eternity before God.  True self-esteem does not come from the praise of other people, but it comes from what we do before the all-seeing eyes of God.

Therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ highly regarded the time that He served His parents, as a training ground in submitting Himself to God’s will by the Law, and then later by grace. By His example, we must cherish the time and the place in which we are granted the experience and trials of life and repentance (doing God’s will); this is our spiritual life, which begins now. St Isaac the Syrian said with regards to why God permits temptations to come upon those who love Him? “Trial is profitable for every man. For if trial was profitable for Paul,[1] let every mouth be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Ascetic strugglers are tried, that they may add to their riches; the slothful are tried that they may thereby guard themselves from what is harmful to them; the sleepy are tried, that they be armed with wakefulness; those who are far away are tried, that they may draw nearer to God; those who are God’s own are tried, that with boldness they may enter into His house. The son who is not trained will receive no profit from the riches of his father’s house. For this reason, then, God first tries and afflicts, and thereafter reveals His gift. Glory be to our Master Jesus Christ Who brings us the sweetness of health by stringent medicines!”.[2] Everything depends on our relationship with God. If we have confidence in His providence, we will have the courage to follow the word of our spiritual father. The logic proper to everyday life and to our own reason is not enough.

God abandons the person who has too much confidence in their own intelligence. It does not matter if a word goes against what we would wish, or if the advice we are given from our spiritual father seems to contradict ‘good sense’; if we are ready to follow it, if we trust our spiritual father, God will arrange things in a positive way. The mystery of obedience is one of the most cardinal realities on the path of salvation. Therefore, if we submit ourselves to God, while beseeching Him humbly with perseverance in unceasing desire, we shall certainly receive all, in Christ Jesus our Lord.


[1] ‘And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated’ (1Cor 12:7).

[2] St Isaac the Syrian, Homily Sixty-One: On the Reasons Why God Permits Temptations to Come Upon Those Who Love Him, The Ascetical Homilies, p.296.

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