Luke 2: 41 – 52 The boy Jesus at the temple
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they were up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival 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 travelled 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 favour with God and man.
* * *
Verse 51 “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
This is the second time St Luke has said this of Mary. In Luke 2:19 we have “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
I think these suggest that St Luke actually spoke to Mary. She would have been old at the time they met, and St Luke would be aware that people might say that Mary was mis-remembering what had happened. He’s saying, “This event was something that was very precious to Mary. She has thought long and hard about it. She has treasured it in her heart.”
I find it interesting, too, that it is Mary and not Joseph who reprimands Jesus. “His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’” Jesus was twelve years old, and almost a man. At the next Passover he would be considered a man, and would have to make the pilgrimage on his own account. Wouldn’t it normally have been the father who disciplined the son?
It was a four or five day walk from Jerusalem to Nazareth, and the road was dangerous for solitary travellers. Mary and Joseph would have been travelling in a large group of family and friends. While it seems negligent to a modern parent in the western world, I suspect that in the first century A.D. it was commonplace to assume that a child of Jesus’ age would take responsibility for making sure he was in the family group. He was, after all, nearly a grown man.
As a parent myself, I have a great deal of sympathy with Mary and Joseph. I’m sure they would have made the travel arrangements clear to Jesus, and if that’s the case, Jesus wilfully disregarded them. So what about the fifth commandment? “Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving to you.” (Deut. 5:16)
It looks as though Jesus has broken the fifth commandment.
You could argue that we don’t know whether Mary and Joseph gave Jesus explicit instructions – and that would be perfectly true; we don’t know, and maybe they didn’t. But Mary’s reprimand of Jesus shows that there were implicit expectations that he didn’t follow.
I wonder, though, whether this was the first occasion recorded in the bible of Jesus exemplifying the conflict between obedience to the letter of the Law, and obedience to God. On this occasion, he felt strongly called to study with the teachers of the law; he felt that it was God’s will that he should do so. And why should it not have been? As a result of what the boy Jesus did, we have an account of how he was gifted from childhood with a deep appreciation of the scriptures. Would Mary have remembered so clearly if it wasn’t for the emotional impact of the episode?
If any reader has an opinion on this, it would be great to hear it in the ‘Comments’ box at the bottom of his post!
Thank you that you are calling me to draw closer to Jesus. Please purify my heart so that I shall be better able to recognise and respond to his presence.
In Jesus’ name, Amen