Friends of Jesus

People who know a lot about history and language say that the word "teenager" is relatively new. The word is used frequently today in our society, and its use can invite a grimace, a response that can show how little we expect from this specific group of people. The scholars of the ancient and biblical languages no doubt would say the word "teenager" didn't exist in the time of Jesus. "Pre-teen" most likely did not either. But both categories existed because 12-year-olds have existed as long as years have been counted. And teenagers have too. Should we expect much or more from young people? Will "kids be kids"? Can society, school, the parish, the family, "the village" or the suburb treat all young people the same and expect that they are all the same? It is oftentimes true that people generalize about young people and settle for a low expectation of what they can and even what they should do. The Gospels show us something different. There is in the way of Jesus a personal approach - person-by-person and person-to-person.

In the familiar Fifth Joyful Mystery story of the 12-year-old Jesus, St. Luke gives a valuable glimpse into the young life of Jesus. This story causes us to wonder about a few things. We wonder (in the scratch-our-heads sort of way) about the world's greatest parents ever, Mary and Joseph … who manage to lose the most important Son of all time. Really? Quickly, though, our wonder becomes closer to wonder (in the marvel-at-the-marvelous sort of way) when we know that Mary and Joseph weren't suddenly irresponsible. Everything the Gospels teach us about these two holy ones brings us to the conclusion that their ways were faithful and attentive, aware of the special task entrusted to them. The Mother of the Savior and His guardian-protector were two people who took care of their Son. They knew many people in the caravan that day. Other relatives of theirs were traveling, too, as well as friends. One can imagine them leaving the city with grateful hearts, grateful for the blessings of the pilgrimage they had made. In our day it can seem shocking that they weren't nervously double-checking to see where Jesus was. Clearly, they proceeded with a confidence that He was where He should be, with people they knew and trusted. In our day we have lost much or most of the "small town" ways that made that possible. We have lost something important and great.

Jesus as a "pre-teen" and as a "teenager" was a boy who knew and loved many people personally. He interacted with the people of Nazareth. He looked them in the eye and spoke to them. He listened to them. He played with His friends. He ran and laughed and prayed, and His parents trusted Him.

A fruitful meditation for parents and for children might be a meditation on what young Jesus did in the caravan when He was 11 years old, the year before the story the Gospel tells us this week. For parents, it is useful to consider the influences they allow to be around the children entrusted to their care. Is there a healthy interaction among friends, neighbors, young and old? Is there a trustful and open way of communicating within the family? For children, as well, these ideas are important. It would seem, though, that they should grow up learning the healthy and wholesome ways of interacting, conversing and trusting. They can learn these ways by experiencing these things rather than by thinking about them. In other words, the overall atmosphere and surroundings young people have should be built carefully and thoughtfully defended so that the "small town" relationships can be found even in our big cities.

The next and maybe more important part of the story opens up for us another area of what can be fruitful wonder. Jesus' response to His parents when they find Him in the Temple gives us a beginning to understanding something that should be fundamental and normal in the lives of our young loved ones today: Each young person, with (or without) the help and example of faithful parents should have a relationship of faith and prayer with God the Father. Parents who encounter the question of how to support and respond to God's relationship with their children (and His) experience the great truth that Jesus still makes friends with young people on the journey. Do we not expect them to be found in His Father's house?

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015