Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Another Temple moment, but this time Jesus is a boy of twelve.
You can tell instantly the kind of cultural differences between there and then, and here and now. Not laying your eyes on your child for a whole day! But they were travelling as a group, in a community and family oriented culture (and that is extended family, not just what we would consider the ‘nuclear family’). Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was somewhere in the group as it set off home from Jerusalem. When they start to feel anxious, the hunt begins, and they go back to the city. They look for him for three days before they find him. Three days of having no idea of the whereabouts of their twelve year old son.
And when they find him, they are astonished. Jesus’ response is equally astonishing, although the passage tells us his parents did not get what he was saying (v50). Mary’s question is valid: ‘Why have you treated us like this?’ She doesn’t understand why her son should be so inconsiderate of their feelings where he was supposed to honour his father and mother.
Jesus’ answer makes him sound equally baffled: ‘Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know?’ One of those impossible conversations where everyone is speaking from their own angle and can’t grasp where the other is coming from! This passage reveals to us aspects of Jesus’ character at this age – he was wise beyond expectation, chatting away with the ‘spiritual experts’ of his days and astounding them with his words. He had an understanding of things that surprised them – but he did not here act in a confrontational way – he asked them questions and listened to them, showing respect for them (v47).
Jesus’ reply to his mother’s question tells us that even at this age he had a clear understanding of who he was, and the intimacy of his relationship with God. He is in his Father’s house. It is, for him, the natural place to be – he isn’t the lost boy they thought he was – he was where he felt he belonged.
After this, he toes the line – Luke explicitly states that he was obedient to his parents. Mary, although not understanding, doesn’t forget. Again she treasures up her memories, pasting them in the scrapbook of her heart. And Luke again shows an awareness of Mary’s thoughts and feelings. It feels as if we too are invited to remember these moments, to understand that they point to something yet to be explained.
And Jesus grew…the story continues…what will this boy become? Luke leads us on deeper into the story.