Here we have a curious incident from the childhood of Jesus. If you are a parent, it is a little difficult to imagine leaving one of your children behind and not realising she or he was gone until a whole day later. Let’s look at Luke 2:41-52.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
The implication of this story, though, is that a large group of people had travelled together to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, a regular, annual event in the life of the community. Jesus is 12 and this is just about the only insight we get in the Gospels into his life between birth and adult ministry.
After the ceremonies for Passover, the parents of Jesus and, who knows, possibly their other children, turn for home. A day later, they realise the boy is not with them.
A key phrase here is “thinking he was in their company”. This is not a small family group of four or five. This is a whole community on the move, a group of family and friends who share in the care of their children. Each look out for the other. If a particular parent is not looking after their child, it is assumed that another trusted adult would be doing so.
Do we not see here – much as we do in the Acts of the Apostles – another glimpse of the ideal Christian community? One in which love and trust exist to such an extent that our children, our most precious possessions, are cared for by the whole community. This group comprises not just relatives, but friends also, all looking out for each other.
During the pandemic, our experience of community has been changed. Meeting together, exchanging news, swapping stories, looking out for the other – these have all been difficult, if not impossible. We have had to adapt to new ways of being community. For a Christian community, our church building has always been a resource, a place to gather strength, a spiritual well on which to draw, in order to face the challenges of the week ahead.
All of this has been swept away and a new way of being community has emerged, albeit hopefully a temporary one. There is a model for us to follow here.
46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 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.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
In the midst of today’s reading is the child Jesus, boy who seems wise beyond his years. He is discovered in the temple courts, sitting with the teachers. For some reason, I had recalled this incident as Jesus being the teacher himself. But, in fact, Luke tells us that the boy Jesus is, at first, listening and asking questions.
I’m currently reading a book by the Jesuit James Martin called Jesus, A Pilgrimage. He has an interesting discussion about the self-awareness of Jesus. How much did he know about his own ministry? How much of his life was a journey of self-discovery?
This incident in the temple courts may have been a key one for Jesus. He is not preaching to the teachers in some miraculous way which we might expect of a child genius. At first, he is listening. Then he is asking questions. Only then, does he begin to draw his thoughts together.
Here, perhaps, is a pathway we might follow. To listen to our inspired and sacred scriptures, calling out to us across the centuries. To ask questions which have sprung into our minds. What is the point of this story? How does it speak to us today? What, then, must we do? And only then, when we have listened and questioned, can we determine the right course to take.
As we face the uncertain beginning of another year, as we turn from the mixed blessing of another joyful season, may we also gain the wisdom which Jesus found. With that knowledge, may we be equipped to cope with the new year and find in it, new ways to understand our saviour, new ways to be Christ to others, new ways to be community and to bring about the reign of God.
- What can we learn from our children?
- How much did Jesus know about the role God had for him?
- How can we listen and ask questions about our faith?
I am in the process of writing a commentary on the Gospel of St Luke. My main focus so far has been on the passion story. You can find the full list of reflections here.