Sunday after the Epiphany
Perhaps you could blame the Holy Mother for losing the Son of God. But Jesus was not lost. Neither was He trying to get some alone time away from family. He wasn’t peopled-out. He wasn’t looking to impress priests and rabbis. He wasn’t stretching His wings. He wasn’t sight-seeing. And He wasn’t trying to embarrass or show-up His parents.
So why was Jesus missing? Why were Mary and Joseph frantically searching for this precocious, 12-year-old, Son of God?
What does Jesus Himself say? He was about His Fathers’ business.
Too often we think the Fathers’ business is about being busy – busy proclaiming or witnessing; busy helping others; busy teaching or setting others straight.
Jesus didn’t go into the temple looking for a good conversation, trying to impress or win over the men who, 20 years later, would lead the shouts, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
To be sure, Jesus was in the place of sacrifice, talking to men who sacrificed, sitting in the middle like the sacrificial lamb He would be for the world. But that’s not why Jesus went into the temple.
He went into the temple to be with His Father. To stand in His Father’s presence. To commune in mind and spirit with His Father.
That’s the Father’s business. Not learning or teaching. Not hearing the preaching. We don’t come to Mass to be inspired or to be taught. The Father’s business is that we stand with the angels and saints, facing the Lord, praying to Him, basking in His love, knowing that we are in the safest place in the universe, the safest place of all time.
That’s why we come into this holy temple. To be with God our Father. To let Him be to present to us, as we present ourselves to Him.
From that we gain strength. In standing here, hope becomes real and faith comes alive. As we stand in front of God, we see more clearly what matters most; and how love—not loving or getting loved, but the One who is Love—how love looks, and it’s true power.
The true power of God’s love for us is His willingness to sit with us during our scariest days, and then lay aside everything He is so that we can receive His Life in exchange for death, His forgiveness in exchange for our sin, His compassion in exchange for our selfishness, His humility in exchange for our pride, and His strength in place of our weakness.
It’s all here. In fact, it’s only here. For while God is everywhere, He is most surely, most graciously, most truly located here for you and me, to receive into the depths of our souls. Here, and only here, is where we taste and see that the Lord is what good is. And what love is. And what hope is.
The Father’s business is to lay aside all earthly cares, so that we can stand here, present to our Father, present with God the Father.
And that’s a sacrifice. It begins in sacrifices, it’s soaked in sacrifice, and it is what sacrifice is.
The Father’s business begins in sacrifice because living with less means trusting that Our Lord provides. Not just food and the stuff we need, but that the Lord provides especially the most meaningful stuff—the pledge, the oath, the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how awful things look; and most especially as we pass through the grave to the fullness of the life to come.
The Father’s business begins in sacrifice, asking us to be willing to sacrifice, so that we learn, with baby steps, how to trust.
And the Father’s business is soaked in sacrifice. Chiefly, the sacrifice of His Son. The sacrifice Christ Jesus makes by being tempted like us in every respect so that it looks like the Son of God, who knew no sin, becomes sin for us. Not that He sins, not simply that He takes on and battles our sins; but that He suffers our sins to death in His own body. Freely. Without any coercion.
Jesus sacrifices Himself to the point that He goes through our absolute worst day so that we might live within His never-ending day. That’s the Father’s business. A business that the 12-year-old Jesus is contemplating before debating. For on the third day Mary and Joseph find Jesus sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and speaking with them. But that’s the third day. The other two days, Jesus is with His Father, considering and conversing about the sacrifices He will love to do for us, and ultimately the sacrifice of being overcome with death in order to overwhelm death.
You see, hell comes for Jesus. Hell takes His body. But hell is destroyed as it tastes His flesh, just as we are enlivened when we taste that same flesh. What is bitter for Him is sweet for us. What kills death brings us to life.
A 12-year-old marveling, reflecting on, contemplating the magnitude of this sacrifice—that’s why Jesus goes in the temple. And He stays there three days to try out and get a feel for the three days of His greatest sacrifice.
Yet the sacrifice is not all about Jesus. You just heard, moments ago, that St Paul said, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” How? Not by letting everything around you shape your tastes, your desires, your hopes, your fears. Not by being pressed into this mold. Instead, we sacrifice when we live completely for others through Christ; when we live as Christ lived – unafraid and undisturbed and unperturbed because we’re living within Christ’s sacrifice—the sacrifice that shows the meaninglessness of everything that calls for our attention, and also shows us the reality of real living in God’s presence.
This Father’s business—it’s not easy to describe, because it’s not anything like business as usual. This Father’s business is the business of living within the freedom of obedience, and the playground of trust, and the unlimited lavishness of grace.
As you hear Paul say that we need to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind,” you can also hear right after that, “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus.” Even when He was 12. When He lived for God’s house. For the temple. For the joy of doing the Father’s business.
That joy—that’s the “living” part in “living sacrifice.” And that joy is both what drew the boy Jesus to be with His Father in the temple, and what Mary pondered as they headed back home to Nazareth.
And it’s that same joy that we need to seek daily in this place where the Father’s business happens. How does the Psalmist say it? What is our prayer?
One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require; even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.
For in the temple, you will find Our Lord Jesus being about His Father’s business.
Through the prayers of the Holy Mother of God and of all the saints, may God be merciful to us and bless us; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.