Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. (NRSV)
There is something terrifying about this story.
Twelve years does not put a child beyond vulnerability. Certainly, in the Jewish culture, it is to be on the cusp of public recognition and the coming of age. But this does not make the boy a man. There is still a lot to learn and years of ‘obedience’ to come. Parental guidance and protection rightly remain in place.
There is a vulnerability only a parent really knows. I wonder how sick Joseph and Mary felt after three agonising days of searching the largest city in the land. What nightmarish possibilities tortured their tired minds? What moments of regret played over and over? What doubt and worry clouded their reason and hampered this most important of all searches? What were their prayers like? How will they ever explain this to those who have also placed hope in this young man? How will they explain this to God?
These are worried and vulnerable parents.
Our passage skips over such detail. The heartache and worry over a lost a child are such universal emotions they are almost assumed – highlighted only by the immediate action of Jesus’ parents and Mary’s rebuke upon finding him calmly conversing in the temple.
Yes, the whole time the boy Jesus was in the temple. Surrounded by teachers of the law he is engaged in ‘listening’ and ‘questioning’. The Son of God was busy learning.
Jesus really has taken on the experience of humanity. This is no half-hearted incarnation. There are things about the temple this young man wants clarified. He seems absorbed in this place, in these people. He wants to know more, to understand.
But this child has assumed, wrongly, that it is obvious to his parents where he would be and what he would be doing. His only response to Mary’s scolding is to ask more questions. To him the search was unnecessary and there was only one possible place he could be: Jesus is in his ‘Father’s house’.
Jesus is home.
It is quite a thought. Jesus annual visit to the temple has been enough to awaken a realisation that he belongs here. He is so comfortable among these people who live to serve God that he can only liken it to being in the comfort and familiarity of the home Mary and Joseph have made.
It may seem to be a back-handed compliment with significant sting. What did Joseph make of it all? Did he harbour insecurities plaguing his claim to the title ‘Father’ when it came to this child? Did this response just highlight them?
Perhaps Joseph need not worry. Not only has Jesus called this place ‘home’. He has also called God ‘Father’. Joseph has done a good enough job for Jesus to see the parallels there as well. This good father reminds him of God.
No wonder Mary could, even here, find treasure worth storing.