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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Triangular Living

Second Sunday After Christmas


Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”


“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.


Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:41-52



My Grandma used to tell me stories about my dad when he was a boy. I especially liked the ones about when he got in trouble – or when I saw some less-than-perfect report cards. I think I liked those stories because my dad seemed more like me in his boyhood days. Like I knew he could understand the things I did, when he’d done similar things himself.


So, as a favor to my grandchildren, I tell them stories about their parents. But only the cute, nice things they did, of course!


Of the four Gospel writers, only Luke gives us any report of Jesus’ childhood. Out of all the things he must have heard from Mary, he was inspired to tell us this one incident, of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem.


He grew up in Nazareth, a very undesirable place to live. We might say “it’s on the other side of the tracks.” Palestine itself was a despised place, and the Son of God grew up in a lowly village in this despised area. I think it says a lot about God, and His love, and about who He came to save years later. When Philip told Nathanael they’d found the One that Moses and the prophets had written about – Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”


Now the Law required every male Jew to attend three annual festivals in Jerusalem each year. With Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire, most only went once a year. The women weren’t required to go, but they often did. The Feast of the Passover, which was the occasion of this particular trip, is a 7-day event celebrating the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It was natural that whole families would share this week-long festivity.


Jesus was twelve years old. It was the year before His bar-mitzvah. I guess we never think of Jesus having a bar mitzvah, but He must have had one. In a year He was to become an adult Jewish male, responsible for Himself.


Now, if you only travel with your little nuclear family, with 4 or 5 in a car, it might be hard for you to understand how Joseph and Mary could lose their son. But for most of us parents, I don’t think it’s that hard to understand. I remember one summer my brother and I were home visiting our parents, with our families. And we decided to go pick blueberries. Well, we got the kids together, and got them dressed, and then found pails and pans for everyone to put berries in – and finally got going. I think we were three miles out of town before Carol asked, “Where’s Kim?” We’d left her home! Good parents, eh? If you’ve never done anything that bad, you’ve maybe had them wander off at the lake, or in the mountains – or in a store! I can remember more than once driving through the neighborhood, looking for one or another of our kids who hadn’t come home, and it was getting dark, and you’re getting kinda frantic, and no one has seen them, and you pray, “Lord, let them be safe. Help me to find them!” And then you find them, playing behind some kid’s house, and a feeling of relief comes over you and it lasts for about 10 seconds before you want to kill them for scaring you! “Where have you been? Why didn’t you come home?”


Now, in Jesus’ day, whole caravans of relatives and friends traveled together – mostly walking. Usually the women and young children traveled at the front of the caravan and the men and older boys at the rear. Joseph was probably saying, “Jesus must be with his mother,” while Mary assumed He was back with the men. They probably didn’t notice that Jesus was missing until they went to make camp that night. Then it took them a day to walk back to Jerusalem and a day to find Him.


And what was their response when they did find him? The same as ours would have been: “Why have you treated us like this?!” “Your father and I have been looking everywhere for you!”


And then Jesus answered them with a most marvelous answer, making a distinction between His earthly father and His Heavenly Father: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” – or – “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”


At the age of 12 we find Jesus for the first time introducing us to the concept of God as a father, who is present, whom you can talk to, whom you can even call “Abba” or “Daddy”. Jesus was saying, God is like a daddy, and if that’s so, we can talk to Him about anything, anytime, anywhere. We can begin to relate to Him, and He can give us direction. Jesus modeled for us here, and throughout His ministry, a new dimension of living.


There really are only three dimensions in which any of us can live our lives. First of all, there is one-dimensional living, or self-centered living. That’s where you’re at the center of things wherever you go. There’s a lot of people living around us one-dimensionally. They may be good or bad, they may be boring or charming – but they’re always on center stage! Wherever they go, in the classroom, at home, on the job, they are the sun and the rest of us are like some kind of solar system revolving around them.


I’m sure you know some people like this. They direct and organize the lives of their families and friends. They come to a party and take over. They tell the jokes and suggest the games. It was said of Teddy Roosevelt that he had to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. Wherever he went he was the hero – the star of the opera.


In one-dimensional living, the people and events around you are just so much window-dressing. I read about a young man who went into a greeting card store and asked for a very sentimental and special valentine. The sales girl, after much looking, found a lovely one that said, “To the only girl I have ever loved. ”That’s perfect,” said the young man, “I’ll take four of them.” He had at least 4 planets revolving around his sun.


There’s a much more realistic view of life – two-dimensional living. You might call it political living. You’re aware of the people around you. They motivate you, and you motivate them. Two-dimensional living is political living. A politician is a person who says he agrees with you in principle. Those who say they agree with you in principle are trying to break it to you gently that you’re wrong. Two-dimensional living is a trade-off. It’s the unspoken covenant between parent and child, husband and wife, employee and boss. The “I will if you will” kind of life. I’ll do my part, and you’d better do your part. Two-dimensional relationships have a lot of built-in perils, because one party or the other is always perceived as not doing his or her part.


A lot of parents tend to live two-dimensional lives with their children. They expect certain behavior, and withhold approval if they don’t get it. We know what’s best. “Wear you sweater today, it’s cold.” “Put your boots on, it’s raining.” I read that “a parent is a person who has to give a lecture on nutritional values to a kid who’s reached six foot six by eating potato chips.”


So we make political deals with our children. We say, “You won’t get your allowance this week because you didn’t do the things you were supposed to.” Jesus’ parents did some of this in our Gospel lesson, I think. Mary was trying to shame her son for causing them concern, and the unspoken message was, “after all we’ve done for you!”


But here Jesus would introduce us to three-dimensional living. He is not self-centered, and he’s beyond living politically. He submitted to His parents and their wishes and He returned home with them. He was a dutiful son. But in this case He said, “There is a third person in the relationship.” Jesus is a living example of three-dimensional living.


Imagine that you, and every person you meet, are both on the rim of a circle, and the hub or center of that circle is God himself. Every relationship, then, is 3-dimensional when we’re aware that God is at the center of every relationship. We go beyond 2-dimensional or political living, to affirming that God as our Father is part of every encounter and situation. The third person is God himself. In the relationship we no longer need to take responsibility for the other person’s behavior or performance. Instead, we trust that situation to the 3rd person in the triangle. We say, “Father, here’s my boss, my friend, my child, my spouse, my parent.” And when we allow God to work in the other person’s life, we can stop trying to manipulate and coerce them.


Like the girl who was asked by her co-worker, “Did you wake up grouchy this morning?” “No,” she said, “I just let him sleep in.” She no longer had to run her husband’s life. If she’s living 3-dimensionally she can let him sleep in and let God work with him.


You may be in a touchy situation at work, maybe with your boss. Like the cartoon picturing two men in an office. The one man sitting behind a huge desk smoking a cigar is saying to the other, “In his mysterious way God has given each of us different talents, Smith. It just so happens that mine is intimidating people.” Do you work – or live – with someone like that? The 3rd person in the triangle can give you a sense of freedom and a strategy for dealing with that kind of problem.


Our Father in Heaven cares about us in all the situations of life. Being Christians means that we are to live 3-dimensionally in more and more situations, with more and more people.


In the last verse of our Gospel lesson, we find the bottom line of all of this: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” If you find favor, only with God, or only with people, you’re missing something. You’re only living in 2 dimensions – on a flat plane. The new person in Christ lives in a new dimension – with God as the 3rd person – so that our lives are lived with Him involved – 3-dimensionally. May He help us to grow this way.


Amen

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