Luke 2:41-52 (NIV) 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.
This small “slice of life” that Luke includes in his gospel gives a very small taste of who the boy Jesus was growing up to become. By the time He was twelve, Jesus knew a lot about the Scriptures, the history of the Jewish people, and theology. He was a strongly motivated student, partly because of what His parents had told Him about the circumstances surrounding His conception, birth, and first year of life (before life began to take on a normal rhythm in Nazareth), but also because of His own growing awareness of who He was, and what He had been born to do.
This was not Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was the norm for whole families to go to the festival together, and to travel in large groups of extended family and friends from the same village. That was the reason that Mary and Joseph did not miss Jesus on the return trip. Twelve-year-old’s had quite a bit of autonomy in that culture, and His parents reasonably assumed that He was traveling with friends or family somewhere in the larger group.
He wasn’t missed until they stopped for the night and inquiries revealed that no one had seen Him all day. Traveling after dark was slow and dangerous, so Mary and Joseph spent a restless night and left at first light, sending their other children on to Nazareth in the care of family members.
It was the following morning when they finally found Jesus in the temple courts, deeply involved in a theological discussion with the teachers of the law. He was listening with shining eyes and eager interest etched on His face. From time to time He contributed an opinion, or asked what the rabbis conceded were very good questions. To tell the truth, the rabbis were enjoying Him and His input into their discussions as much as Jesus was enjoying the spirited back-and-forth over each passage of Scripture.
Mary and Joseph were expecting to find Jesus terrified at being left behind in the big city, not enjoying a Scriptural debate! They stood and watched for a couple of moments in stunned silence. Mary was the first to find her voice, and she called His name, snapping His attention away from the discussion, and drawing Him over to where they stood, frowning, with arms crossed. A modern version of Mary’s speech would sound like: “Just what do you think you’re doing, young man? Your father and I have been worried sick! We’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
A small furrow appeared between Jesus’ brows as He processed this. The He asked in all innocence and sincerity, “Why were you looking all over for me? Doesn’t it make sense that I would be right here in my Father’s house?”
Mary and Joseph had no idea what to make of such an answer. Raising the Son of God definitely came with some unique challenges! So, for now, they just gathered Jesus, excused themselves as politely as they could, and started the long trip back to Nazareth. There was a lot of silent pondering along the way, as each of them looked long at this young man skipping along the road ahead of them, and then at each other with question after question in their eyes.
Father, Jesus’ growing sense of who He was in His relationship with You sparked a greater and greater hunger and thirst to study and understand Your word, and to be where You were present and working. May it be in my life that each day, as I understand more and more of who I am in my relationship with You, that it sparks exactly that same hunger and thirst in my own heart. Amen.