“It’s not about [us] becoming spiritual beings,” says Fr. Richard Rohr, “nearly as much as it’s about becoming human beings.”
Jesus is born of Mary in a manger, but is, God with us – he is a kind of Emperor Augustus and Rabbi Gamaliel all wrapped up into one, or maybe something completely transcending both. The gift of wisdom that shines forth at the age of 12 gives us but a clue to what he will grow-up into.
One of the amazing stories about youth this year in 2012 was from a 15 year old high-school-er, Jack Andraka, who invented a test, that he wants to patent now, for detecting cancer. At 15, that’s 3 years older than Jesus when he was debating in the Temple, but still pretty impressive! When they announced his name, Jack was so excited, he charged up to the stage to accept his $75,000 grand prize at the [Intel] International Science and Engineering Fair this past May. In this Olympics of youth science, Jack out did more than 1,500 competitors from 70 countries, each of them having already won their national competition before arriving. Jack’s advice for kids trying to figure out what to do with their creativity and imagination: “Make sure to be passionate about whatever it is you get into, because otherwise you won’t put the right amount of work into it.” Shades of Jesus’ reaction to his parents: “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” Jack is probably too old to walk hand in hand with his parents, yet I’m thinking, after the competition, he must have rode home, from NY to Maryland, in the back seat of their car.
The good and the bad about our culture that promotes prizes and notoriety for high achievers and child prodigies, is that, innovation and inventiveness is encouraged and celebrated, which creates an exciting climate of entrepreneurship that can, and sometimes does, lead to benefits for all. But on the down side, we tend to close our eyes to the many who are left behind, who not only may not receive much, or very little encouragement, but in too many cases, we fail to provide even the minimum resources needed for our children to succeed and contribute to family and society.
We don’t even seem know how to sustain a conversation about it. The failure of so many in our schools in Chicago only came to light this year, and for a relatively brief period, during the courageous & contentious CTU strike in August. What was illuminated in that moment was the lack of financial support for such basic things as school supplies and air conditioners, class room size and finding a way to trust teachers to teach instead of having to ‘teach to the test.’ It shown forth in “the passion” of teachers and parents, who really want change. They demonstrated their willingness to daily walk hand in hand with their students to show them the way, if we will help to give them the proper tools and support.
By the end of 2012, however, the news from CPS is a plan to close more schools, probably on the south and west sides, and create new charter schools in other neighborhoods, possibly including Edgewater & Rogers Park. Unfortunately it’s more of the same, good at rewarding the successful, still blind to and misunderstanding how to deal with the least. And then the headlines just this weekend about our youth, “Chicago Tops 500 Murders for First Time since 2008,” yet another by-product of ignoring the endemic and multi-layered problems that we are all called to be responsible for.
An NPR correspondent, whose beat was in Japan this year, compiled his top 10 news story list for 2012. When asked to choose one to highlight on air, he told about a Japanese classroom he visited, studying math. He observed how it was the student who was having the most difficulty learning the material that was chosen to come forward to the chalk board, so the class and the teacher could help him with the problem-solving. The American correspondent noted that it’s usually the opposite of the model here in the U.S. Here we pick out the best student from the class to come to the chalk board or answer the question, as a demonstration of how it’s possible to “know it all,” or be like her/him if you just try harder. Here, we reward the best. In Japan they emphasis the communities’ responsibility to include everyone in the learning process. We might call it hand-holding, in a negative way, but there is value in looking out for the least one. Is this a trait we tend to lack?
Mary and Joseph, returning from the Passover festival in Jerusalem, were more than just worried about Jesus being left behind. They are also ‘stressed’ that now they will have to leave the security of traveling with their kinfolk and fellow villagers from Nazareth, a common practice in antiquity, especially for small-town folk coming to the big city. Leaving them and returning for Jesus means they will be days behind, and without the protection of the whole group. As responsible parents, Mary and Joseph have good reason to hold on tightly to Jesus’ hands on the way home.
Still, the young Jesus learns a lot on this trip to big city. That he is gifted with the wisdom of the rabbi’s, and the leadership of emperor’s. He is obedient to his earthly parents, but knows he is called to speak freely and forthrightly about his divine progeny as well.
As scary and unknowable as his gifts are to Mary and Joseph, and to us as well, he cannot turn away from being about the business God is grooming him for. As upset and confused as Mary is at Jesus’ behavior, and as embarrassed as Joseph, traditional head of household, was, at looking out of control, they also look a lot like model Disciples: they do what disciples do, leave the comfort of home and reputation, to seek and follow him. No hand-holding, but risk taking - It’s not about [us] becoming spiritual beings, nearly as much as it’s about becoming human beings.
Just so, the 12 year old Jesus returns with his parents to Nazareth. He goes back to being a boy, obedient to his earthly parents. Though we know already he regards God as his true father, he understands how he has come to be truly human, as well. How do we become human beings after the model of Jesus? How do we fulfill our calling to be disciples here in this world?
Jesus, the new born king, from David’s royal city of Bethlehem, by way of Nazareth, comes to save us, in Jerusalem, where, even under the shadow of the Temple, the world is farthest from God. In our fear and misunderstanding here in this big city, Jesus will hold on tightly to our hands and lead us to safety and new life, beginning with the last, and working his way up to the first. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. For in his hand, we are made equally and fully human, and we walk together on level ground leaving no one behind, but are increasing in wisdom, and in divine and human favor.