Lk 2:41-52 (In the Philippines: Feast of the Sto. Niño)
41Each year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 42and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. 43After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” 49And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
“I must be in my Father’s house”
Palm Sunday. Six-year-old son Johnny had to stay home because of a bad colds. When the rest of the family returned from church carrying palm branches, the little boy asked what they were for. His mother explained, “People held them over Jesus’ head as he walked by.”
“Just my luck!” the boy protested, visibly disappointed. “The one Sunday I don’t go to church, and Jesus shows up!”
Johnny thought he had missed Jesus.
In the only gospel story marking the transition from Jesus’ childhood to the beginning of adulthood, Luke describes how Joseph and Mary take the 12-year-old Jesus to Jerusalem on the festival of Passover. As soon as the allotted time for the holiday is over, they hit the road to return home, unwittingly leaving Jesus behind in Jerusalem.
Jesus is their only child—how on earth can Joseph and Mary forget about Jesus? The Gospel makes it clear, however, that Jesus is not forgotten or left behind. Since families travel in caravans, Mary and Joseph think Jesus is with other children. Thus, when they realize that Jesus is missing, they start searching for him among their relatives and friends. Not finding him, they retrace their steps and trek back to Jerusalem. There, at the temple, they find him a bright and articulate student among the teachers of the law.
“Son, why have you done this to us?” Mary asks. We can all identify with her natural reaction. Any parent suffers distress and great anxiety when children do not say where they are going or what they are doing.
Indeed, Jesus is missing not because Mary and Joseph lost, forgot, or left him behind, but because he chose to stay behind without parental permission. “I must be in my Father’s house,” he tells Mary. His response reveals that he has now taken on for himself the responsibility of living up to his dedication to God. Being in his Father’s house does not mean remaining only in the temple from then on but engaging in the Father’s business and being concerned with the Father’s things.
For Jesus, this is clearly where he should be and what he should be doing. He asserts his independence as a person to take up the mission for which the Father has sent him. He has assumed that Mary and Joseph would know this. But they neither know nor understand. Mary, of course, treasures “all these things in her heart.”
Despite this claim to be about his Father’s interests, Jesus nevertheless obediently follows Joseph and Mary back to Nazareth and waits for his true adulthood before beginning his ministry. And meanwhile, Luke tells us, Jesus grows “in wisdom and age and favor” before God and before men and women.