Perspectives on Perfection

April 17th, 2008 • Category: Gospel of Luke
by Theresa Benson

Today’s scripture: Luke 2:40-52 (ESV-text and audio) (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me in this passage? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts — Theresa Benson:

When I was in kindergarten, we all made handprint pictures — mine was blue — and beneath our handprint was the following poem:

Sometimes you get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
But every day I’m growing up
And soon I’ll be so tall
That all those little handprints
Will be hard to recall.
So here’s a little handprint
Just so you can say
This is how my fingers looked
When I placed them here today.

My mom framed it and hung it over the toilet in the guest bathroom, and every once in a while I’d put my hand up to see just how much bigger I’d gotten than when I first made that picture. After a while, it was hard to even believe that that was really my handprint, even though I still had the vivid memory of making it.

When Mom died, she still had that picture. It wasn’t hanging up anymore, but I found it in her cedar chest where she kept her wedding veil, my first blankie, the Christmas stocking I was brought home in, photographs of her teenage boyfriend, and other treasures she wanted to hang on to.

I can imagine, if I were Mary in this story, the first thing I’d do is not smile sweetly and let Jesus “get away with” talking to me the way He did in today’s reading. After going a day without noticing He’s missing, then at least a day back after they realize He’s gone, and then trying to find Him in the “big city,” if I were Mary I’d be freaking out. I just lost the Son of God, for goodness sake!

And then, once I found Him, to have Him suggest that I should’ve known He was in his Father’s house? Oh, no no no. Someone’s getting grounded for sure, and for the trip back home, He wouldn’t be a donkey’s length ahead of me. I can just hear Mary now… which is probably why Jesus went back with them and was “obedient,” as the Bible describes. You know the old saying, “If Momma ain’t happy…”

Now why would the author of this Gospel choose to leave a story in about Jesus getting lost and a little scolding by His earthly parents? Why didn’t he just leave the story the way it ended at verse 40? After all, he repeats the same thing again in verse 52. There must be a reason for bringing this up.

When Jesus chose to be God-with-us, He chose it all. Not just the dramatic, pain-filled agony at the end of His life or walking on water and healing and miracles. He went through cranky baby issues, probably fell a hundred times before He learned to walk, played games with childhood friends, skinned his knees, dealt with growing pains and voice changes. He experienced life with us with all its blessings and challenges. And with that came blessings and challenges for His parents, too.

Life, even when we look at its best and most perfect example — Jesus — isn’t all about miracles and transformation. Sometimes it’s about tiny jelly-flavored fingerprint blobs on your tax return right where you need to sign; your four year old saying “dinnerstate” instead of “interstate,” no matter how many times you patiently sound it out; or you and your 16 year old arguing about chores and curfews for the umpteenth time this week.

And then one day as you’re making breakfast, you’re told that “jelly has too many carbs” and she doesn’t like it anymore; or you find yourself missing the “dinnerstate” so much that you keep re-telling stories about it every time a new date comes home to meet the family.

I think this story is in here to give us a little perspective. Even the most perfect life is perfectly imperfect. That’s what it means to be human. And even if you’re not a parent — but you have a relationship with a spouse, or a parent, or a boss, or any human at all — there will be opportunities to let go of the pain of life’s frustrations and treasure the little “experiences” that happen in our lives.

Think about it — if Mary had hung on to an ounce of the fear and anger she was surely feeling when she lost Jesus on the trip home, or if she had brought it up again and again during future arguments, she would have contaminated what turned out to be a treasured memory for her.

It took a shift in perspective on Mary’s part, much like the way that poem shifted the perspective of the parents of us kindergarteners in Mrs. Green’s class. After we made those pictures, we still left imperfect fingerprint smudges on the just-washed sliding glass door or the refrigerator. But now our parents could see them as more than something that needed correcting — they were fleeting moments, little jewels that needed to be saved up and treasured.

Thought for the day: Embracing the imperfect doesn’t mean letting everything go haywire all around you. But are you caught up in making life perfectly perfect? What “imperfections” are you hanging onto which could be transformed from a burden into something to be treasured?

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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