The Gospel writers were not like modern journalists. Journalists today are pre-occupied with facts and photos and ‘spin’ and, ironically, they get things wrong a scary percentage of the time. The evangelists are interested in what happened only because it reveals the truth – the truth about Jesus.
Indeed, Luke tells us at the very beginning of his Gospel that he drew up his account of the facts, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.
So Luke presents us with what happened in such a way that through his presentation we can identify and receive the truth.
The episode presented in Luke’s Gospel today is the only record anywhere of Jesus’ life before he began his public ministry as an adult. We are lucky to have it and we do well to read it attentively and to reflect on it deeply.
Every year his parents used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual.
The Holy Family did not need to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover; Joseph because he lived about three days from Jerusalem and only those within a day’s journey were obliged to go; Mary, because women were not obliged to go; and Jesus, because he was not yet thirteen. Still, their gratitude to God who had set the Hebrews free and their love for the feast caused them to make the arduous journey every year. Though we as Catholics are not obliged to go to daily Mass, there are some who have the same need to express their gratitude to God by going every day.
On the way back home Jesus was thought to be with other family members or friends and it was only at the end of the day, when they couldn’t find him, that they knew they had to return to Jerusalem. Frantically they searched for three days and then found him. Remind you of something? Was there another time when Jesus was ‘lost’ for three days?
To be able to understand the torment of Mary and Joseph at the loss of their son we would need to be able to understand how much they loved him. The Holy Family was without one of its members; it was a kind of broken family, and the tip of the sword which would later pierce the sorrowing Mother began to make its way into her heart.
Are you already beginning to see the prophetic truth that is unfolding in this account of the Finding in the Temple? It gets even clearer.
On the third day they found him again. He was discussing with the doctors of the Law and showing himself, as a twelve year old, to be superior to them. He was questioning them and they were astonished.
My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been looking for you.
They are Mary’s first recorded words to Jesus and his reply will be his first recorded words to her; their first recorded conversation.
Son, says Mary. She knew he was her son by birth as well as the Divine Son of the Eternal Father. She utters this anguished word as the Mother of God who brings the two Holy Families, the human and the divine, into her tortured question.
Jesus responds: Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Mary had spoken of ‘your father’ and Jesus had spoken of ‘his Father’. Jesus, too, is aware that he belongs to two families, and that one has precedence over the other. Do we have this awareness? How many parents there are who recognize only the human dimension of their family relationships and forget the divine or eternal dimension?
Far from being hurtful this truth was already familiar to Mary and Joseph. Besides, they were well-schooled in the truth that not all is what it at first appears. Joseph learned this when he discovered that Mary was to give birth to a child he had not fathered. He had learned to be silent and to await the unveiling of God’s plan in God’s time. Though neither Joseph nor Mary understood their son’s answer they did not question him further. Instead, as we can well imagine, they would have pondered in their hearts.
What appears to us hurtful is that Jesus seems to be tersely reproving his parents’ anxiety, but it is not so.
Mary knew from the annunciation of the angel that God was Jesus’ Father and that the Temple was his house. What she had seemingly not understood was the prophetic content of Jesus’ need (must) to be in the Father’s house. This twelve year-old lad could see the path of his mission stretched out before him and it ended in his Father’s house. His foray into the Temple of Jerusalem, the place of his future suffering and death, among the doctors of the Law, at Passover time, after which he was ‘lost’ for three days – all spoke of his passion which lay twenty years ahead. His mission would bring him ultimately into ‘his Father’s house’ and it was a mission he must complete. It had not yet happened; it had not yet been fulfilled; and therefore could be understood only in the fullness of time.
Perhaps this is a fitting truth with which to conclude our reflection. There is always something in our family lives, some difficulty, some contradiction, some tragedy which we do not understand. We can choose to act impulsively, destructively, impatiently, proudly – or we can store up all these things in our hearts and humbly ponder their meaning, waiting for God’s light to arrive.