Finding Jesus in the Temple
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (2:41-52)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
This one story is the only canonical record we have of Jesus' life between the time of His birth and His baptism by John in the Jordan. And unlike various accounts in apocryphal gospels like the so-called "of Thomas", St. Luke's account is comparatively unextraordinary. Yet, like all biblical stories, and especially the mysteries of Christ's life, it is packed with deep significance.
The main thing that we note about this episode is that it is a rehearsal of the Cross. This is the first time that Jesus would have made the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, just as the last time He enters Jerusalem would be for that quintessential Passover in which He offered Himself as the sacrificial Lamb. Likewise, in this account, Jesus is lost for three days, clearly foreshadowing how in His death, He would be "lost" to His Mother and His followers for three days until the Resurrection.
But in this rehearsal, unlike the final run, it is not Jesus Himself who suffers, but His Mother. The rehearsal of the Cross was not for Christ's sake, but was to give Mary a taste of what Simeon had prophesied to her 12 years before--that a sword would pierce her heart. Being the Mother of God would come to her at great cost, and she is beginning to see that again in this episode, as she first saw it dimly when Simeon proclaimed it, and as she saw it again when the Holy Family had to flee into Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. While the Sword of Suffering never fully pierced Mary's heart until the lance pierced the Heart of Jesus, nevertheless, it was always constant in her life, pricking her and reminding her, and us, that Love costs something.
Who but a mother can know the pain in Mary's heart when first she realised that Jesus was missing? What panic must have gripped her as she went from first one person to another in their caravan returning to Nazareth, and finding still no trace of Him. And then, in Jerusalem, every day for those three days, not being able to eat or sleep for worry, wondering what could have become of Jesus, her Son! Who doesn't empathise with her reaction and words to our Lord when she finds Him in the temple: "Child, why have you treated us like this?" "What were You thinking? We've been scared out of our minds, Your father and I!"
In the Rehearsal of Calvary, Mary now reacts the way that Jesus' disciples would react later, from Peter's first rebuke, "Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen!" (Matt 16:22), to the disciples' later cowering in fear behind locked doors, their dreams shattered at the loss of their Messiah. We will touch on this again when we reflect on the Glorious Mysteries, for it is interesting to note that Jesus' Mother Mary never once appears in the accounts of His Resurrection appearances! Surely this is a strange thing! Surely He would have shown Himself alive to His Mother! And I believe He did. But I believe there is a very clear reason why it was not recorded: every resurrection account details Jesus appearing to those who had lost hope, who had lived those three days in worry and doubt! Mary was not among them. We do not hear of her again until that Pentecost Sunday when the Church was born--and then she is listed with the community of believers (cf. Acts 1:14).
Mary remembered that trip to Jerusalem for Jesus' first Passover, and the second time around, she continued to hope, remembering Jesus' words to her that first time: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Most biblical transaltions note that the second question could be translated, "Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" At the Crucifixion, Mary knew with certainty that Jesus was "about [His] Father's business," and so she freely offered Him on that Cross as the Sword of Sorrow transfixed her heart. But that sorrow, as well as this, would be juxtaposed with wonder; and while Mary at the time did not understand Jesus' words about His Father's house, as she continued to "treasure these things in her heart" and to meditate upon them, she began to fully understand what the young Jesus already knew--what the Angel had tried to tell her from the beginning--Jesus was no ordinary child. That much was clear. But what that extraordinary quality was, is simply that Jesus is Divine.
And yet, despite Jesus being God-made-Man, and the King of all Heaven and Earth, He nevertheless continued to humble Himself, and so subjected Himself in obedience to His earthly parents, again modelling virtue for us, and, in living it, fulfilled the Law in order to be its Perfect Sacrifice. And so, even now, at the age of twelve, Jesus was already performing the Work of Redemption, just as He was preparing His mother for its final act.
May we, like Mary, meditate upon her Son, so that we too may be prepared when the great trials to our faith come. Because they will come. But as Jesus told His disciples later on, and showed to Mary here, we must "take courage, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Amen.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)