When I was ordained in 1988 we celebrated with family members in the church manse. Three men were seated in the living room. I asked the first, “Dad, can I get you drink?” Then the second man, “Dad, can I… no, you’ve had enough.” I asked the third man, “Dad, how about you?” There were actually five men who played the role of father in our lives. My mother loved men and they loved her. Of course, having that many fathers meant in some way that I really didn’t have any… but I did have several male role models throughout my life. And each of them has been a blessing in their own way and time.
My somewhat atypical developmental experience allows me to see Joseph, the husband of Mary through a different lens than some might. In the public’s eye he is a man who weds a woman who is carrying someone else’s child. He is forced to flee from political violence to another country… making the holy family immigrants. And he finally returns to his hometown years later to raise his blended family.
It was a religious requirement to celebrate the Jewish Passover in Jerusalem (with rare exceptions). And so our passage describes a young Jesus on the verge of his symbolic adulthood, unknown to his parents, remaining in the city while their whole village travels a day’s journey homeward. Most parents can understand the frustration, and then anxiety (and fear) felt when their child wanders unexpectedly away. Some might even understand what Joseph must have felt when Jesus later stated, he must be about his (real) Father’s work…
Recently, I have heard that the mother whose four year-old slipped into the gorilla exhibit has received condemnation and even death threats because of her suggested negligence. I have heard similar criticisms aimed at the parents who tragically lost a child who was wading in shallow water in Disney World. I can only suppose that these thoughtless comments must come from non-parents or parents that have forgotten (or denied) their own imperfections in raising their children. I cringe when I remember some of my own parenting blunders. I also remember just how willful I was as a child… and my children have inherited those genes from both their mother and father.
In my Father’s Day children’s message I asked every male in the sanctuary to stand, from babes in arms to seniors. I pointed out that God made all of us with unique gifts and perspectives that we can use to make the lives of other’s better. We will have opportunities in our lives to be fathers, or uncles, or teachers, or mentors, or friends, or role models to others who face challenges in their lives. As one who has received many such gifts let me thank you in advance for what you might do for others.
Happy Father’s Day.