When you stop to consider the absence of information that we’ve got about the childhood of Jesus, these passages about a young Jesus in the temple are incredibly profound. After a young Jesus leaves the temple, there is another huge gap (18 years to be exact) in the narrative. There is a reason that these passages stand out. They are the only information we have about the adolescence of Jesus. These are strange passages for strange people.
Over the last few days we have spent much time celebrating the birth of Jesus…but how much time have we spent celebrating the womb that carried God? The womb is a place where divinity meets divinity. God the creator works to create God’s image. Let’s not forget to celebrate the womb. One cannot understand the adolescent Jesus until you understand the womb from which he came.
The wise men came a few years into the tale. Why don’t we ever talk about the wise women who came? Do you think there were wise women there? Surely? I know I am thankful for all the wise women in my life…including your pastor Rev. Lee Ann Bryce. I’ve got to believe that there were women in the life of Jesus who were incredibly instrumental in his upbringing. I think that the sexism of the writers of the narratives shines forth when we see such a glaring absence of influential women in the early narratives about his life. I guess that is just another gap in the text. When will we make room for the wise women amongst the wise men?
We treat wombs and women so terribly in our churches. When will we reverse the curse that proceeds out of the way we have talked about wombs and women since the beginning?
Under the gun, we know that a young Jesus eventually has to flee to Egypt. We have people fleeing violence all over the world right now. We should be able to relate. Unfortunately, most of us are too comfortable behind the safety of our borders to actually give it much thought. Truth be told, we’ve caused so much of the violence in the world. What wicked people we are. How can anyone claim to follow Jesus and live behind the borders of the richest nation on the planet? We don’t care. We just keep on pillaging and screaming over and over, “There’s not enough room for you!” The institutional church does the same thing. By institutionalizing our spaces we wall people out and declare, “There’s not enough room for you!” We must repent.
These passages about a young Jesus in the temple are so strange. Can you imagine if a child came in here and wanted to deliver the message today? We don’t believe that children have a message. We believe that children belong in their place. Do we value order more than we value the word of God?
I believe that this was Jesus’ coming out moment. For many years, Jesus was developing. I believe that God whispered in Jesus’ ear, “Step out of that closet! You can be everything that I have created you to be. You don’t have to wait. Now is the time.” Jesus was ready. In an instant, Jesus fully embraces the totality of his being and steps out as queer. The womb, the wise people and the experience of being a refugee prepare Jesus to be queer. The closet couldn’t hold him back.
The queerness of Jesus causes great anxiety for Mary and Joseph. Jesus responds by telling them that he was about God’s business. Without fail, the business of God is always queer. If one is not engaged in queer work, then they are not engaged in the business of God. You can’t work for God in the Devil’s closet. Too often, we respond like Mary and Joseph because we have denigrated the womb, we have denigrated women, we have denigrated refugees and we have denigrated all things that don’t fit our idea of order. By simply being queer, Jesus repels any denigration. You can too.
While this is a nice story in the temple, I am particularly curious today about where Jesus was from this point until thirty. Like any good rabble rousing southern preacher…when there’s a gap in the text…I just make it up. I got three things that I believed happened.
First, I think that Jesus had deep sustained interaction with scholars and practitioners of nonviolence. The Gospels are full of the most nonviolent passages the world has ever known. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we lived like this, we wouldn’t have violence. We don’t. Jesus assures us that our destiny is tied to the other. Do you believe that?
We live in a society where everyone has a gun. We even pay people to walk around with guns to protect us. Everyone is ready to shoot. How can you love your neighbor and live in such a society? We say that we’re nonviolent. I don’t believe us. The church is one of the greatest promulgators of violence. Have you read the Bible lately?
Many decades ago, Thomas Merton boldly declared, “The modern man is walking around with a loaded gun in his hand. The only question that remains is ‘Will they shoot their self or someone else first?'” That’s the world we live in. We see it play out in shooting after shooting after shooting. How can anyone love Jesus and own a gun? To be queer in a world full of guns is to refuse to ever pick one up. Stand down Christians!
Second, I believe that revolutionary teachers helped form Jesus. We are living in revolutionary times. Throughout our nation, activists are dismantling our infrastructures of oppression. Why are we not joining in? Why are we not examining our own souls? Do you believe that black lives matter? To answer this question, one has to look no further than this stained glass window towering over us at this very moment. While you are not alone in having a white Jesus in your sanctuary, surely we know that such a depiction is a product of racism and a desire to whitewash Christianity. Friends…Jesus is not white. Far too often, we create God in our image instead of believing that all of humanity was created in God’s image. We must repent of the white Jesus and get it out of our lives.
Lastly, I believe Jesus engaged deeply with the mystics. Jesus walked with the God beyond God. Jesus sought the unexplainable. Jesus sought something magical. Jesus sought the indescribable. Jesus sought something alien. Jesus never stopped seeking…for in the seeking is the knowing. Knowing that he was created in the image of the God beyond God, Jesus sought the self beyond the self. Do you? I encourage you to trade your explaining in for some being. Stop doing a bunch of stuff and learn to be what you were created to be in the first place…the very image of God.
Love your neighbor…put down your gun.
Love your neighbor…open your borders.
Love your neighbor…embrace the revolutionary spirit of our age.
Love your neighbor…be queer.