41 ¶ Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 ¶ And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
I’m not his mother, but I did have a connection with a young boy whose wisdom beyond his years was apparent and touched me, profoundly. I encountered him in the most unlikely place – on my morning commute. There was something about his demeanor – something in his eyes and his gait that caused me to notice him as he strode past my driveway on what appeared to be a morning exercise routine. That alone, brought him to my attention. A young boy – no more than 10 – striding? And every week day morning there he was as I exited the drive – a stand out amongst the variety of adults walking my street, often in pairs , frequently with a dog. But he walked alone with a determined look on his face and an energy in is step that revealed some purpose beyond exercise. I wanted to know him – know what it was that made him tick – know what he was thinking about and why this particular morning routine.
As far as I could tell he never noticed me – our eyes never met – but there was something that pulled me in and made me want to know his story. I thought about him a lot as the daily encounters passed into months, then into two years. I shared my wonderment and curiosity of him with a friend in an attempt to talk out a story – his story. And I wrote about him in some theological reflection work. I knew there was something very special about him.
One evening I was watching television and was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the young boy featured on a network game show. There he was – one of three young people competing for prize money in a question and answer game. He stood erect with the steely-eyed focus I had come to know so well – a focus and determination and sense of purpose beyond his years.
He doesn’t smile, but it is not an unhappiness that is perceived. Rather, a settledesness, if you will – a comfort-in-his-own-skin-beyond-his-years focus is what I saw. He knows himself and that sort of presence in a young boy is nothing short of engaging and inviting. A person – a total stranger – wants to know what this young boy knows, or is at least what it is he is thinking about.
Watching him compete – and win – the mystery of who he was and what made him tick was revealed a bit. I guessed that he was just a wonder boy – a genius braniac, perhaps an idot savant, even. But that didn’t quite compute because he didn’t look like the misfit ‘nerd’ such genius children sometimes do. He was athletic, quite boyishly attractive and cute, and age appropriately dressed. He looked like a boy other boys and girls his age would want as his friend. Dare I say, even popular? He looked like he would be one of the ‘popular’ kids at school.
Not long after that game show aired, I realized he wasn’t on my radar screen any longer. I didn’t see him on the morning walks anymore. But I didn’t stop thinking about him. I surmised that he had had his fifteen minutes of fame and was now in a different space. Perhaps the walks had been in preparation for the game show appearance. Perhaps the focus I read on his face was his way of ‘studying’ and preparing for that moment.
I forgot about the young boy.
And then, just this last year, there he was again. Not on the walks, not on the television, but on the big screen co-starring with two well-known actors in a blockbuster movie. I learned that his game show appearance had caught the eye of a casting director. “Caught the eye” – he had eyes to catch.
So the story I had constructed about him wasn’t ended at the game show – that wasn’t his final bow – that wasn’t his motivation for the walks, that wasn’t what he was about. He wasn’t just a genius kid – popular or not – he was – he is – so much more than that. A wisdom beyond his years that got air time first on a game show, and then on the big screen. So was this it? Had he finally stepped into the life that he had been called to step into? Was he now in Hollywood? Was Hollywood what he was called to? Were his walks, his focus, and the wisdom beyond his years to land there?
Just this past week the young boy was back – back to the striding, back to his hometown, back to his routine that so engaged me three years ago. I saw him each weekday morning on the same route – alone, focused, an intentional gait and facial expression that conveyed yet his youth and wisdom.
The gospel story in today’s reading of boy Jesus who had stayed back in Jerusalem unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph and hence become ‘known’ to the temple worshipers for the wisdom beyond his years reminded me of this boy and my encounter with him. Jesus had his fifteen minutes in the temple. He became known. But it wasn’t the time for him to step fully into the call on him. He was yet a boy. And so, he returned to his hometown, his childhood. There was to be more to this young boy Jesus’ story. The world would know him someday and be touched by the mystery of him and his call. But it would unfold as God intended, and in God’s time. Jesus was to grow into his call even though the gift, the purpose, the wisdom which resided within him at birth was not to be manifested or known until adulthood.
I suppose where I link these two stories is here: we may be born with wisdom beyond our years and some of us may even have childhood experiences (fifteen minutes?) that reveal that wisdom to others before we have reached adulthood, but at the end of the day, the process of growing INTO that wisdom and call is as important as the manifestation of it in adulthood. Childhood – growing up – process – the means to the end is the only way to reach the intended end, to live into our call as the one who gave it to us purposed to all of His creation. In God’s time.