Luke's account of Jesus' childhood development focuses on two experiences at the Temple in Jerusalem- the epicenter for Israel's spirituality. In the first (Luke 2:21-40), Jesus undergoes ritualistic purification according to his family and community's religious tradition-so that he might identify with his people and prepare himself for a lifetime of consecrated service. The role of the elder Simeon is highlighted. Simeon prophesizes that "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).
Twelve years later, in the second Temple episode, Jesus is no longer a passive character. Years of study in his faith have made it possible for Jesus to actively participate in the rigorous give and take typical of rabbinic study of scripture. According to Luke, the spiritual development of Jesus was, then, supported by his having been schooled. The boy Jesus remains behind in Jerusalem and is later found by his parents "in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:46). As an adult, Jesus would be at odds with most of his fellow Jewish teachers and leaders, but in this account, he willingly submits to his teachers' authority. They mentor him by answering his questions-which in Jewish tradition is a pathway toward wisdom. They also critique his grasp of the faith (Luke 2:47). This second Temple story also eludes to yet another biblical message about childhood spirituality, namely, a message about obedience. From a biblical perspective, obedience is a precondition for spiritual development. Lest we think that Jesus' staying behind in Jerusalem was an act of disobedience, the biblical account states that Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and "was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51). This message about the importance of children being obedient is found throughout the Old and New Testaments (see Hebrews 4:6, for example). Through being obedient to parents and elders children and youth manifest humility and a desire to learn from those who are further along in their spiritual development. Accordingly, Jesus' willingness to obey his parents indicates his acceptance of personal responsibility for his spiritual development. Later on, as an adult, his willingness to obey God constituted a central indicator of his spiritual maturity.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:8-11).
During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Heb. 5:7-9)
ADOLESCENT SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT: LESSONS FROM THE ACCOUNTS OF JOSEPH, DAVID, AND MARY
Adolescence as a discreet stage in which young people engage in formal education and seek to define who they are in relation to others is largely a construct of modern derivation. However, three biblical accounts of adolescents are consistent with the modern view. As in the accounts of Samuel, John the Baptist, and Jesus, these additional biblical accounts embody principles inherent in the Jewish and Christian understanding of spirituality in youth.
The Genesis account of Joseph's development commences with the observation that he is a "young man of seventeen" (Gen. 37:2). His being his father's favorite child provokes jealousy among his siblings, and this jealousy is exacerbated by Joseph's sharing his dreams (Gen. 37:3-11).
Three observations regarding the biblical perspective on adolescent spiritual development can be gleaned from this account. First, the fact that Joseph received dreams from God is significant. In ancient Israel, dreams constituted one way to hear the divine voice. In this account, then, we find once again that the biblical perspective sees God relating to youth in the same way God relates to adults.
The second observation is that the forces that propel adolescents' spiritual development are often beyond their understanding and control. Joseph's faith in God enables him to negotiate his brothers' betrayal and its aftermath, even though he will not understand the dynamics underlying the betrayal, until he is much older (see Gen. 45:5-8; 50:19-21).