We only have one story in the Bible about Jesus as a child. Only one. And from that one story, we learn that Jesus was capable of messing up. He was with his parents in Jerusalem for the Passover. No doubt, they were traveling along with a group of other pilgrims from Nazareth as they began the long journey home again. It’s not surprising that a twelve-year-old child might not be holding hands with his parents in that situation. He was off with his friends or other family members. At least, that’s what Mary and Joseph assumed. But after traveling for a day, they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. Where on earth could he be? They could only assume that he must be back in Jerusalem. So, they retraced their steps.
This was probably one of those occasions when they didn’t know whether to throw their arms around their son and weep tears of joy when they found him, or read him the riot act for worrying them so much. They were clearly miffed at him and Mary let him know it. “What is the matter with you, Jesus? You had us worried to death!”
Jesus, totally insensitive to his mother’s feelings, gave a smart-aleck response: “Chill, folks! Didn’t you realize that I would be here in my Father’s house?” It’s as if to say, one of us has a problem here, Mom and Dad, and it’s not me! I can imagine that didn’t go down too well. There’s that commandment about honoring your parents, and Jesus has clearly violated it.
So his parents took him by the hand and marched him right back to Nazareth. And we don’t hear another peep from him for nearly twenty years, when he appears in the wilderness to be anointed for his public ministry in the waters of the Jordan River.
Only Luke gives us this little story about Jesus’ childhood, and I’m so glad he did. Because it helps us to see what it meant for Jesus to be human and grow up as we all do. We like to say that Jesus was perfect, meaning he never made any mistakes or did anything wrong. But from the get-go, we read that that wasn’t so. In fact, when the Bible says that Jesus was perfect that’s not what it means. Perfection has more to do with being whole, or complete. The perfection of Jesus was that he lived into God’s purpose for him in its entirety. It may have been that as he was discovering what that was, he couldn’t tear himself away from the temple when he was a boy. But in the process, he hurt his parents, and he broke an important commandment.
The Bible doesn’t tell us any more than this about Jesus’ childhood. Instead, Luke summarizes those years in one simple verse: "Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. And that's all we need to know. Jesus grew up. As the years passed, he grew wiser. He learned through times of joy and times of sorrow, through his successes and through his failures. Yes, sometimes he messed up. It's the only way he could have learned. Jesus grew the way we all do.