A juggler enters a monastery. He soon discovers that, unlike the other monks, he’s not good at typical monkish things: he can’t cook, he can’t sing, he has terrible handwriting. The only thing he can do is juggle, and what use is that? In despair, he goes one night to a statue of the Virgin Mary . . . and juggles—offering to her, as his prayer, the only thing he has.
The medieval French tale of the “Juggler of Our Lady” imparts a familiar lesson: God gives us gifts that God wants us to use and to offer back in prayer and worship. Our reading from Leviticus this morning gets at something similar: “When you enter the land I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest” (Lev 23:10). This section of the reading is from the oldest layer of this passage, and significantly is directed not at the collective, or to priests, but to the individual farmer. “I have given you, as a gift, this land—you shall give me, as a gift, the fruits of that land.”
I suspect that many of you will remember the 1990 movie classic, “Home Alone,” in which a frantic family jets off to Paris for Christmas only to discover that they have left their youngest child behind. The movie’s plot is, admittedly, a little difficult to swallow.How does a family leave their house, ride all the way to the airport, hang out in the waiting area, board the plane, and only then, midway over the Atlantic Ocean, realize that one of their children is missing? If you can get past that question, you still have to believe that this very clever eight year-old boy, entirely on his own,is capable of successfully defending his home against two adult burglars, using a series of ingenious traps and gimmicks;and all without losing his composure, even for a moment. Extraordinary child, to say the least.
The gospel story today may also stretch your imagination a bit. How did Mary and Joseph travel an entire day before discovering that their son wasn’t with the group? And how did a 12-year-old Jesus survive three days in the city on his own, apparently without any sign of anxiety or stress, all the while successfully matching wits with Temple scholars, most of whom had likely spent their whole lives studying the Torah?