When Jesus was a youngster, Mary and Joseph made annual trips to Jerusalem for Passover. The trips were festive and must have involved camping and socializing with friends on the trip to and from of the city. On the way back to Nazareth during the year when Jesus was twelve, Mary and Joseph did not monitor the boy closely. After all, he was almost a young man and preferred to enjoy the walk with his own associates. But when Jesus did not check in with them at nightfall, they looked for him in vain. Fearful and angry, they started the long journey back to Jerusalem.
If the first temple story in this narrative—the encounter with Simeon and Anna—emphasizes the importance of the temple rituals to Jesus’s maturation, this story emphasizes the importance of the temple’s academic life to his growth. In Luke’s description of the scene his parents found when they went into the temple, it becomes clear that the law has been important to this family not only in its ritual requirements but also in bringing Jesus up in the tradition of Torah study. He is sitting in the middle of the teachers, a description commonly used for Torah study. He is listening to them and asking questions. Although this dynamic is implicit rather than explicit, the teachers are clearly questioning Jesus as well—for they are impressed with both his grasp of the law and his ability to articulate answers. The story is meant to indicate that the preparation for the ministry to which Jesus is called requires an apprenticeship in the study of the Torah. Already at twelve, Jesus is well into his intellectual and spiritual journey—none of which is at the forefront of Mary’s mind as she scolds her son for worrying his parents. It is a wonderfully unvarnished and endearing glimpse of the holy family’s ordinary human interactions as an ordinary human family.
Gracious and holy God:
We praise you as creator not only of mountain crags and ocean surges,
but also of the human family, with all its beauty and struggle.
We praise you for your infinite wisdom in birthing your incarnate self, our brother Jesus,
into his own family, nurturing him in beauty and in struggle.
We ask, in these wintry days and nights, that you be present with every family,
in whatever place and configuration and circumstance.
Help us bear each other up, that all families may have what they need
to nurture the young, to laugh and love, to care for the elders,
that we might, together as your family, proclaim your love to all the world.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.