Why Jesus Doesn't Belong In Church

This morning, I read the account of 12-year-old Jesus at the temple. When his parents found him there and scolded him for disappearing, Jesus said. “Didn’t you know where to find me?” At age 12, Jesus’ place was in his Father’s house. That was where to find him. That was where he belonged, and he knew it. 

But that changed. Somewhere in the 20 years between that Passover and his last, between sitting at the elder’s feet and pointing a finger in their faces, Jesus changed places. He left the temple. 

We can’t imagine the adult Jesus saying to his mother, “You can always know I’ll be here at the temple. This is where to find me.” The adult Jesus was much more likely to say that about the local pub, or a fishing boat, or a neighbor’s dinner table than the temple in Jerusalem. 

And by the time he started his life’s greatest masterwork — his passion, death and resurrection — he was most certainly an outsider. He stood outside Jerusalem to weep over her. He faced down the religious establishment with a whip in his hand and irony on his tongue. 

There is probably a lesson here about the gospel for the nations — about a Messiah who was born to Jewish insiders but extended redemption to the whole world. That’s a good and true lesson.

There is a lesson here about where to find Jesus — not necessarily in temples and cathedrals. He is accessible anywhere. And he is often found in the streets and gutters, in the hollowed-out eyes of an addict or the empty dreams of an office worker. That, too, is a good and true lesson. 

But there’s another lesson here — one about growing up. For the person raised in a religious family, the temple is an indispensable foundation; but it can also become a trap — a flypaper of spiritual security. When we grow up, it’s no longer where we belong. Jesus soaked up his religious education like a sponge. He sat eagerly and reverently at the feet of wise teachers of Torah. But he didn’t stay there. He took away the take away. He was filled up to be sent out; he was called and commissioned; blessed to be a blessing; gathered and scattered; breathing in and breathing out his Spirit on all people. 

At some level, the lessons we learn at church should prepare us for something, and that something isn’t more lessons at church. 

The boy Jesus found his place in the temple; the grown up found his place in the world. 

Let’s go and do likewise.

Ryan Sanders4 Comments