Numbers 26:1-51; Luke 2:36-52; Psalm 60:1-12; Proverbs 11:15
As I'm sure I've said before, I am a mother to three small children. Reading the account in Luke 2 about Jesus staying behind in temple is like reading my worst nightmare. Granted, my children are 5, 3 and 1 (and not 12, as Jesus is here) but I can still well imagine Mary and Joseph’s panic when they realized Jesus was not with them. Just picture the scene – they’ve come to Jerusalem from Nazareth to celebrate the Passover, which Luke says they did every year. When the celebration is over, they load up their belongings and other children and begin to head home. From the text, we know they are in a group, traveling together as everyone heads back to their various towns. Most likely, at the end of each day, the parents round up their children to serve dinner as a family and wind down the day. It is at this point that Mary and Joseph notice Jesus is not among the group. Can you imagine their panic? Here they’ve already traveled a whole day and Jesus is nowhere to be found. They must have been terrified! I would be beside myself, unable to think about anything other than finding that child.
Speaking of trying to find the child, this is one of the things that has troubled me about this passage. How did it take them a whole day to discover that Jesus was missing? As I often do when something is troubling from Scripture, I turned to my commentaries to see what help they could offer. Leon Morris suggests in his commentary as part of the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries that in a large caravan, it would have been quite easy for parents to not know exactly where their kids were. In fact, the women and smaller children often walked together and the men and older boys often walked together, so it’s possible Mary and Joseph each thought Jesus was with the other.
Well, that explains that. But then what about the “after three days” business in verse 46? If I had lost a child and was frantically searching, 3 days would seem an impossible amount of time. Again, commentaries can be helpful here as well. Morris says that the three days means total days since they first missed Jesus – one for the day they traveled out of Jerusalem, one for the day they traveled back and the third for the day they found him. Jerusalem wasn’t that large at this time, and Jesus wasn’t exactly hiding. So it was probably very easy to find him once they returned to the city.
But why does Jesus do it? We can tell from the text that Mary is upset (understandably so!) and asks Jesus, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (vs. 48). Why does Jesus stay behind without telling them? And why does he not show more remorse when they do finally find him?
Clearly, it’s a surprise to Jesus that there was an issue at all. He says, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (vs. 49). Perhaps it’s possible that Jesus, being so caught up in learning and listening to the teachers, did not even know his family had left? Perhaps he felt they should have known what he was about, given that he was now reaching Jewish manhood and was by this time certainly aware of his mission for humanity? We can see from his words, the very first recorded words of the Messiah, that Jesus was already aware of God and his relationship to him. He must have felt he was just on the brink of his true purpose on earth and that Mary and Joseph should understand this.
Regardless of the reason, Luke is careful to show us in the following verses that Jesus went with them as soon as they found him and “was submissive to them” (vs. 51). And we also see that Mary “treasured up all these things in her heart” (vs. 51). Perhaps she was starting to see more of the picture unfold. Perhaps, instead of being angry with Jesus for causing her heartache, she began to see that he was not her son at all, but the Father’s, sent to heal the world.
- Esther McCurry
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