Lost at the Mall and Other Parental Contradictions

Nailed it! After all these years I’ve finally confirmed what skeptics have been telling me for years. The Bible is full of contradictions. In fact, Jesus contradicted himself. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus scolded religious lawyers who taught people it was better to give their money to the local synagogue than use it to care for their aging parents (Matt. 15:4-6). Honor your parents. Don’t gyp them! But how does that square with the account of another individual in the gospel of Luke? Being asked to follow Jesus he responded, “Let me first go and bury my father.” In surprising contrast to Matthew 15 Jesus told him his excuse was unacceptable. “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). That’s harsh…and it contradicts Matthew 15. Thus the Bible is clearly whack.

Well, hold on. The Bible may indeed be difficult to handle, but not because it contradicts itself. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself, nor does Jesus contradict himself. But the question remains as to how one reconciles the two aforementioned approaches to parents.

Try for a moment to imagine parenting Jesus. Luke (2:41-52) tells a story of when Jesus was 12 years old. Mary and Joseph accompanied the extended family on their yearly trek to Jerusalem for Passover. Joseph loaded up the camel (maybe it was a camel…I’m guessing he upgraded from the donkey they drove to Bethlehem 12 years earlier) and they headed to the Flying J to meet up with the rest of the caravan. One thing to know about these donk-camel-vans is that typically, as still happens when extended families travel or gather together today, they segregated themselves. Men in front, women in back, or vice versa…kids floating in between. Thus on the way home from Passover, after a day’s journey, you can imagine Mary and Joseph’s conversation when they realized Jesus was missing.

“I thought he was with you!”

“How could he be with me? I thought he was with you!”

“Where is that boy!?! Oh…” Henceforth ensued wholesale breaking of the 3rd Commandment as Jesus’ name was repeatedly taken in vain.

But a salient point in regard to this account is that Jesus’ going AWOL was not the result of wanton disregard for parental authority. Once they found him, still at the synagogue twisting religious teachers’ minds into kosher pretzels, Jesus wondered aloud, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Mary responded, “One more word and I’ll…” Actually we don't know exactly how Mary responded to that particular question. But Jesus wasn't just talking smack. His was a legitimate question.

We’ve all seen the wild-eyed mom at the mall, experiencing 30 seconds of sheer panic at the sudden realization her offspring is no longer by her side. She stopped momentarily to send a text then moved on, not realizing that in that brief moment her child’s attention had been completely captivated by the X-box demo in a nearby storefront. Fearing the worst, she turns on her heels and charges like a bull toward a matador waving a red flag and arrogantly sticking out his tongue. To her great relief she finds her son transfixed in a pixilated dreamland. Shocked back into reality and sensing that things are about to go badly for him, her son might innocently say, “Mom…didn’t you know that I would be checking out this new game? I’ve been here all along. Look how cool this is!”

In either case the son, despite shortening his mother’s lifespan by several years, meant no ill or disrespect. It’s just one of those things that happen from time to time. The difference is Jesus was not checking out the latest edition of Mortal Kombat. And while the typical 12 year old might immediately lobby for staying longer, the account notes an interesting aspect of Jesus’ response to his frazzled parents. “He went down with them…and was submissive to them” (Luke 2:51). The Son of God, savior of humanity, listened to his earthly Ma and Pa without any lip.

That’s important.

Hebrews 5:8 says Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” Keep in mind Jesus, “the eternal Son of God, became man.” If you are the second person of the Trinity, existing eternally in complete unity of mind with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, who exactly do you need to obey or submit to? If you answered “no one,” you win. Then one day, of his own volition, Jesus finds himself on a violent ride through the birth canal and ending in a feed trough. Despite the fact Jesus remained the Son of God, there was a lot to learn as the Son of Man; how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, how to read, how to…obey. In his relationship with Mary and Joseph Jesus learned how to submit to human authority established by God, something completely foreign to him prior to his being made human. In turn that prepared him to submit to the will of his Heavenly Father when all the chips were finally on the table, praying “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Clearly Jesus toed the line in regard to honoring mother and father, thus his disgust with those who taught otherwise, as in Matthew 15. But any authority given or honor owed to our earthly parents has only been established by God, to whom our allegiance is ultimately owed. By the way, those of us who are parents ourselves do well to remember this as well. Thus when interests conflict, as often happens in an imperfect world, the greater priority should be clear. It is readily identified in Luke 9:60. What makes the Bible difficult is not that it contradicts itself. The Bible is difficult because it beckons us to orient our entire lives around honoring and submitting to God in light of his grace to and authority over us. That is a hard thing. He gave us parents to help us learn how to do it.