“Didn’t we just do this the other day?” Most years, Christmas decorations show up in the stores, and I can’t believe it’s already that time again. Or my first-born starts talking about her birthday, and I’m like, “Wait, didn’t you just have a birthday?”
I can imagine Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt the same way about Passover. After she and Joseph returned to Nazareth from Egypt, they went to Jerusalem for the festival every year. It was a three-day walk each way, but they did it, as did almost everyone in Nazareth.
3 Background Issues
Jesus probably had more
freedom on this trip
than He had before.
When Jesus was twelve years old, he and his family, his neighbors, his friends, and…well, pretty much everyone he knew, went to Jerusalem for the Passover, as usual. Jesus was on the cusp of manhood, according to the social order of the time. When He reached puberty (around 13 y.o.), he would become part of the adult religious community in Nazareth. So most likely, he had more freedom on this trip than he had in years past. Otherwise, it started out much like any other Passover pilgrimage.
- Jerusalem at Passover was like your favorite college town on a football game day in the fall. Scholars think the population swelled to more than six times its usual, maybe up to 500,000 people (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible).
- By this time in Jesus’ life, Mary and Joseph had other, younger children as well. Perhaps they were also responsible for an aging parent or some nieces and nephews. When they started packing up for the post-festival return to Nazareth, it was easy to think Jesus was somewhere nearby, probably keeping his friends out of trouble or helping an old woman cross the street. He was so responsible, so well-behaved that they never imagined he wasn’t in the caravan.
Parenting Lesson #1: 12-year-old boys? You gotta keep up with them. I have one. I know.
3 Days of Searching
Mary and Joseph were making camp after a full day’s walk before they realized Jesus was truly missing. They asked around, but no one had seen him all day. With no other alternative, they left the rest of the kids with relatives, shouldered their travel bags, and started walking back. I think they stopped everyone they met: “Have you seen a boy named Jesus? About so-tall? Super-good kid? Probably smiling? … No? … Are you sure? You can’t miss him.”
Did they walk all night, stumbling in the early morning hours? Did they return to the place they’d stayed in Jerusalem, thinking he would surely be waiting on them there? Did they buy a cup of coffee and forget to drink it because they were searching so hard for Jesus? Did they contact the police? (Did Jerusalem have police? I don’t know.)
Mary and Joseph searched for three days (or maybe it was three days from when they first left Jerusalem) before they found Jesus in the Temple. (Worth noting: Jesus was missing for three days when He died, too.) By the time they spotted Him, you can bet Mary was more than a little upset. I’ve been there with my twelve-year-old: talking, berating, questioning before I take a breath to evaluate the situation.
Let’s freeze-frame for a minute here with Mary’s finger raised and pointed toward Jesus, her mouth already opened to scold Him. Where is Joseph? Shouldn’t he have been the one to reprimand Jesus? If Mary was anything like me, she didn’t give Joseph a chance to speak.
Mary was beyond “hangry”…
Not to excuse her, but we have to cut Mary some slack here. She’d been searching non-stop for three days. She was beyond “hangry,” with no sleep, no good meals, little water, and overwhelming levels of worry. In her frazzled state-of-mind, Mary did what we all do. She made Jesus’ seeming disobedience about herself, and she spoke before she thought. She even threw in the classic “Your father…” guilt trip. (Yep, I’ve used that one.)
Your father: Scholars think Joseph was quite a bit older than Mary, so perhaps the trip was more difficult for him. Also, every day he was away from the carpentry shop was a day he didn’t get paid. Jesus’ disappearance cost them three days of income in an already-sparse month.
Look at Mary’s self-centered words to Jesus.
“Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” –Luke 2:48
As if Jesus had intentionally planned to frighten or hurt them? No way.
Twelve years enjoying the convenience of a perfect child had left Mary with little patience (because she hadn’t needed it) and possibly with some entitlement issues (because it would have been easy to start thinking her parenting had something to do with His sinlessness).
Parenting Lesson #2: Consider your motives before you scold.
3 Things Jesus Said in Just One Sentence
Allow me a bit of creative license here. I think Jesus looked over at Mary and raised a questioning eyebrow at the “your father” bit.
“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” –Luke 2:49
In my Father’s house.
Do you see the “your father”/”my father” contrast? With His short reply, Jesus gently corrects Mary, reminding her of (1) where He came from, (2) Who He is, and (3) What He was about. His words offer her—and everyone listening—a hefty dose of reality.
- Where He came from: Jesus came from God, the Father.
- Who He is: Jesus was (still is) first the Son of God, then the Son of Man.
- What He was about: Jesus wanted to please His parents, I’m sure, but He never prioritized that desire over His purpose to represent God to people and eventually die for people.
Also notice (just because it delights me): Jesus is already answering questions with questions—something He’ll do throughout His public ministry. Isn’t it great? I touch on this topic in Why Do You Ask?
Parenting Lesson #3: Sometimes our kids are right, even though they’re not Jesus.
Bet that was a quiet three-
day walk back to Nazareth!
I wish we knew what happened next. Were Mary and Joseph speechless? It seems like it. What did the teachers and other on-lookers think? Did Jesus just stand up and walk away with them or did He continue talking for awhile?
Luke tells us Mary and Joseph didn’t immediately understand what Jesus meant (Luke 2:50). But I imagine that, after Mary got a good meal and a nap, she began thinking more clearly. I hope she and Jesus sat down for a quiet talk about the events of that day. Maybe she even apologized, “Sorry, Jesus. Your deity slipped my mind.”
- Sometimes I forget where to find Jesus, and I search all over the place—in self-help books, in mindfulness, in serving others, in nature—when He’s sitting in the temple all along. Paul said our bodies are His temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). Hmm…
- Sometimes I forget Jesus is God’s Son, and I think I need to protect Him from the world or justify Him to antagonists.
- Sometimes I forget life is about Jesus, not about me and my feelings.
- Sometimes Jesus’ deity slips my mind.
Maybe it happens to you, too.
Do you sometimes forget Who Jesus is or what role He expects to play in your life? What aspect of this Gospel story speaks to you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Twenty-two years later, Mark finds Jesus back in the temple, sparing with the teachers again. I wonder if any of the same religious leaders were there. I wonder if they remembered the feisty twelve-year-old whose mother hunted him down. All You Need is Love
Luke finishes his description of Jesus’ early life with, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Over on Intentional Parenting, I used these four categories as a guide in praying for our children.