Twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple

Now it was the practice of his parents to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival; and when he was twelve, they made the pilgrimage as usual. When the festival season was over and they started for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know this; but thinking that he was with the party they journeyed for a whole day, and only then did they begin looking for him among their friends and relations. As they could not find him the returned to Jerusalem to look for him; and after three days they found him sitting in the temple surrounded by the teachers, listening to them and putting questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his intelligence and the answers he gave. His parents were astonished to see him there, and his mother said to him, “My son why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” “What made you search,” her said, “Did you not know that I was bound to be in my Father's house?” But they did not understand what he meant. Then he went back with them to Nazareth, and continued to be under their authority; his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. As Jesus grew up he advanced in wisdom and favour with God and men. (Luke 2, 41 – 52)


Did the child Jesus behave incorrectly here? Did he not obey his parents? Read the text carefully. Jesus did nothing wrong. There had just been a misunderstanding between him and his parents. His parents thought that he would be with the group of pilgrims travelling home. Jesus himself, however, considered it fully normal and correct that he stayed in the temple. Why? I cannot imagine that Mary and Joseph some day took the child Jesus aside and explained him: “Listen you did not come to exist through the natural process of conceiving but through the Holy Spirit.” Would a normal child at the age of 12 have understood this? I very much doubt it.


Jesus always obeyed Joseph the way it was expected for a child to behave. This, too, we read in this text. At the same time, however, he knew that not Joseph but God himself is his father. When at the age of twelve then for the first time he set his foot into the temple, he felt that here God, his father, is present.


According to Jewish belief God always is present in the temple. Today we know that God can be in the heart of every person who believes in him. Yet for Christians, too, there are moments where they feel the presence of Good with special intensity. This may happen when two, three or more Christians pray together. Some people also feel a special presence of God when they enter a church building.


Thus for Jesus it was not only completely natural that he stayed in the temple, it furthermore gave him special joy finally to be in the house of his real Father. Mary and Joseph on the contrary don't understand it when Jesus says this to them. Although both parents know very well all the special details of the birth of Jesus, at this point they still don't recognise that he is the Son of God.


Jesus respects this, and immediately obeys and accompanies his earthly parents back to Nazareth. Although at his young age of twelve he obviously intellectually already stood high above Mary and Joseph, he does not argue with his parents in the typical way of young ones, “Yes, but.....” Jesus respects his parents' authority, and at the same time he knows that all their acting derived from their love to him.


Do you understand it that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you understand what it means that He precisely loves you?