“Jesus increased in wisdom and years.” Or as I like to say, “Jesus grew up.” This entire story is about Jesus growing up. It seems like just yesterday, or rather a few days ago that we were all witnesses to his birth and now, through the magic of Scripture, he is twelve years old and wandering off from his parents while on a family trip.
He hears the report, “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.” More than likely they would have stayed in Jerusalem for seven or eight nights during this festival period.
Then we read the news in verse 43: “When the festival was ended, and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.” Starting to sound like the movie Home Alone. We are not given much information about how he got separated from his parents or why he stayed behind, but my guess it this is how it happened.
In these days, people traveled on a journey together for protection. Life on the road was not easy, and it was very dangerous to be going especially with young children. To get from Galilee to Jerusalem they would have had to go through Samaria, and the people in Samaria did not like their Jewish cousins. There were also robbers and hijackers along the road that would take your money and your donkey. The group would have started early in the morning with the woman and children first and the men following along. As night approached, they would all gather together and rest. Children would move up and down this group visiting with family and friends, and everyone would watch out for them. One day they travel without Jesus, they turn around and spend the next day going back to Jerusalem, and they find him in the temple.
There are two ways to look at this story, and we will begin from the view of his parents. They assume that Jesus is with them, and they start towards home with all of their other relatives. As they stop for the first night and gather around the fire, they realize that he is not with them. They start to panic a little, they look around the other groups to see if maybe he is with them, they get slightly more anxious, they cannot find him, the sun has set, and there is nothing else they can do tonight. They try and sleep but toss and turn all night. As soon as dawn breaks they headed back to Jerusalem, alone and unprotected to search for the boy.
Their fear must have been at the highest levels. Every step they were asking what might have happened. All sorts of images run through their heads. Each year some 50,000 children in the US are abducted and know exactly what Mary and Joseph are going through.
Verses 46-48 continues the story. “After three days they found his in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard his were astonished 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.’” They must have been going back and forth between great joy that they found him and anger that he had done this.
The earliest written documents of the church had no mention about Jesus as a boy or how he grew up. Common wisdom would suggest this is because he grew up as any normal child would have in those days. Even in Luke’s Gospel, written forty years after the Resurrection, only has this story and then nothing else until we see him at the wedding. Luke added this story to his Gospel because were interested in what happened in those lost years of Jesus life.
Jesus was no boy wonder. He forgot his parents, and they came looking for him and found him in the Temple after three days of fear-filled searching. Mary told Jesus exactly what he had put them through, as any parent would I am sure.
But what about the perspective of Jesus, how did he see this event? He was a child. Perhaps the reason Mary and Joseph did not look for him when they started out on their journey was that they knew he would be with other family members. They take this trip each year, and I am sure this is what would have happened in the past.
Being twelve years old, this would have put Jesus halfway between two important categories for Jews, women, and children on one side, men on the other. He was halfway between, not a child anymore but not yet a man. Stuck between and unsure of where he is supposed to be.
The earliest recorded words of Jesus are in verse 49, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” We have three possibilities of what Jesus might be saying here in this passage. Jesus could be saying that he is about his father’s business, or that he is among his father’s people, or in the temple precincts. These words of Jesus are ambiguous, but we have to assume that Mary and Joseph knew what he was saying since they did not question his.
But most importantly here, Jesus is not speaking about his earthly father Joseph, but of God his father. Jesus’ question, in the original language, is asked in such a way that he expects them to understand, and he seems a little disappointed that they don’t.
Right here in front of us, Jesus is growing up, and he is breaking the emotional ties with his parents. We can see this because he does not feel guilty about what he has put them through. As a younger child he would have been trying to please his parents, but now he is doing the work that he has come for. The real guilt would have come if he had not ventured out on his own and ask questions and to give some answers with the teachers in the Temple.
Jesus is not rebelling against his parents; he is growing up. He will go back to Nazareth with them, back into the home that they have made, he will learn the trade of Joseph and obey his parents. Verses 51-52: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Just as she did when the Shepherds came years before. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor.”
Jesus is growing up. The same Gospels that record the works and sayings on Jesus also record his experiences. Jesus grows in body, mind, and spirit, just as we all should. We are created to grow, change, mature. Our genes hold the blueprint for natural development. Jesus shows us what it means to grow in the faith that God is our heavenly father.
Like Jesus in this story today, none of us is exactly what our earthly parents want us to be. Sometimes parents want their children to be extensions of themselves. In such a relationship children are just there to finish were their parents began, or to live their parents dreams. Like Jesus, all of us must leave our parents and leave behind the emotional dependence upon them. Maybe we even have to leave behind some of their beliefs that don’t fit us anymore.
Some have tried this in many different ways, moving out to our home or getting married and maybe even having our children, but this can get us lost trying to take these shortcuts in our lives. The truth is that we have to be at home with ourselves and with God before we can even think about leaving our parents.
Jesus begins to break the emotional ties with his parents, but he does not feel guilty because he is not rebelling against them or their way of life. His parents are confused, but they are not bitter or angry because they know he is not fighting them. He is growing as God intended him to grow.
Here is where God has pointed us from our birth, to be standing attentive to God, responsible for ourselves, wiling to live with others without blaming them for who they are or what they are not. By doing this, we become less of a burden and more of a delight to those around us.
Something needs to happen for us to being this part of the journey. Maturity is when I accept my identity from God, an identity that started that started with but is not limited to my original family. Maturity is when I, like the rest of God’s children, respond to the continuing grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the New Year is an opportunity to leave our parents, to stop blaming them or excusing ourselves, and, like Jesus, to place our ultimate trust only in God as our living parent. We have just experienced the birth of Christ, and now we watch him grow. Now it’s our turn to grow and be about our father’s business.