‘I must be about my Father’s business’ (Luke 2:49 King James Version)
To which God-given duties did Jesus occasionally refer?
Only a few times in the Gospels do we hear Jesus speak of duties he ‘must’ fulfil. In fact there is a total of less than twenty scattered verse in which Jesus uses the little Greek word ‘dei’ [= ‘must’] about his obligations; and they all really answer one of those familiar questions: Who? Where? What? and Why?
- Who is Jesus’ true Father?
Chronologically, Luke 2:49 – the title given to this study – is his first announcement of one such obligation, ‘when Jesus was twelve years old.’ [See Luke 2:41-50; all quotations are from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.]
Let’s not rush over this well-known incident. Nowadays, a Jewish boy in a devout family would celebrate his Bar Mitzvah at that age – his spiritual coming of age as ‘a son of the law’, henceforth responsible before God for his own spiritual condition. When Mary and Joseph realised he was not ‘among the other travellers’ heading home ‘to Nazareth’ from ‘Jerusalem to search for him there,’ they were dumbstruck when, ‘Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.’ But ‘His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”’ Two questions are triggered off in the boy’s sharp young mind:
(i) “But why did you need to search [anywhere else]?”
(ii) “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s [blank]?”
Ever so gently the lad Jesus corrects his mother for referring to Joseph as ‘your father’. Did she not often recall throughout his childhood how the angel Gabriel had clearly indicated to her that God was his Father when he had told her: ‘He will be called the Son of the Most High’ (see Luke 1:26-33)? Joseph, without doubt, had been his faithful guardian throughout the years of childhood.
- Where in fact did they find Jesus?
Luke’s narrative employs another small Greek word three times, namely ‘en’ [= ‘in’] – used in a three-dimensional way! Jesus is situated:
– ‘in the Temple’ – physically (Luke 2:46a);
– ‘in [that is] among the religious teachers’ – socially (Luke 2:46b); and
– ‘in the [a plural definite article followed by a ‘blank’ where a noun is expected] of my Father’ (Luke 2:49 in the Greek text).
That blank left by Luke implies a plural noun that would have to agree grammatically with the definite article [Greek = ‘tois’]. But The Message New Testament paraphrases Jesus’ comments well: ‘I had to be here, dealing with [Greek ‘in’] the things [= ‘affairs’] of my Father’s.’
Decades later Jesus corroborates that this is what he meant when he said: ‘My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work’ (John 4:34). ‘The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me’ (John 5:36).
However, back in that end-of-search day, Mary and Joseph ‘didn’t understand what he meant’ – but ‘his mother stored all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:50-51) – until all would become plain.
Also in answer to the question ‘Where?’ are the following clues:
When ‘the crowds’ who had witnessed a whole evening of healings in Capernaum ‘searched everywhere for him’, ‘the next morning’ and ‘finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent. So he continued to travel around preaching in synagogues throughout’ the land of the Jews (see Luke 4:31-44). Also, John 9:4 (margin): ‘We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent me.’ And in John 10:16-17 he said: ,‘I have other sheep, too, that are not in this [Jewish] sheepfold. I must bring them also . . . and there will be one flock with one shepherd.’
- What must happen to him?
Jesus told Nicodemus: ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up [on the cross], just as ‘the bronze snake on a pole’ that ‘Moses lifted up . . . in the wilderness’, ‘so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15). This necessity that as Saviour he must suffer and die and rise again he repeated in Luke 13:33; 17:25; 24:7, 44; and Matthew 26:54. Also Luke 22:37 which is best rendered: ‘For the time has come when this prophecy about me must be fulfilled, “He was counted among the rebels”.’
- Why must all this be so?
When John in his Gospel insisted that his Lord ‘had to go through Samaria on his way’ from ‘Judea . . . to Galilee’ (John 4:3-4; ‘he must‘, Greek text), it was not because that was the regular highway, but because, in the will of God, he would meet a despised, oft-married woman in Sychar who would recognise him as ‘the Messiah’ and ‘the Saviour of the world’ causing him, in ‘doing the will of God’, to stay ‘for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe’ (see John 4:4-42, especially verses 29, and 41-42). And for the same reason of mission, as he passed through Jericho en route to his final few days of life in Jerusalem [see Luke 19:1-10], he called up to ‘Zacchaeus . . . the chief tax collector’ hiding in ‘a sycamore-fig tree beside the road’: ‘Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today’ so that ‘Salvation [could] come to this home [that] day’.
 How sensitive are we to the detours and stop-offs that God would tell us we must undertake?