The Holy Family performed four Jewish practices in Infant Jesus’ life within a timeframe of 33 days. The first two were the circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day, and the others were the ritual purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. Mary was free from original sin and had conceived him virginally through divine intervention. So, there was strictly no need for ritual purification for her. However, the Holy Family submitted to the customary Jewish practices and so set an example for us in the matter of following the directives of Jesus and His church. Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple following the Law that every firstborn male shall be consecrated to God.
The Holy Family used to go to Jerusalem every year for the feast of Passover. When Jesus was 12-years old, at the age of Jewish adulthood with obligations to practice the religion, Jesus continued in the Temple actively involving in theological discussion of the scholars. Joseph and Mary returned from Jerusalem without knowing that Jesus was not in their caravan. After a long search, they found him in the Temple taking part in the religious discussion. Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and subjected to their authority and supported the family. The Holy Family is a role model for us to involve in religious practices and in submitting to the authorities.
BIBLE TEXT (LUKE 2:41-52)
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
(Lk 2:41) Every year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover as was customary. (42) And when Jesus was twelve years old, he went up with them according to the custom for this feast. (43) After the festival was over, they returned, but the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem and his parents did not know it. (44) Thinking that he was in the company of the travelers they went a day’s journey. Then they looked for him among their relatives and friends. (45) As they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him, (46) and after three days they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (47) And all the people were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
(48) His parents were very surprised when they saw him, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried while searching for you.” (49) Then he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (50) But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (51) Jesus went down with them, returning to Nazareth, and he continued to be under their authority. As for his mother, she kept all these things in her heart. (52) And Jesus increased in wisdom and in age and in grace with God and men.
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
(Lk 2:41) Every year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover as was customary.
According to the ordinances the LORD gave through Moses, “Three times a year, then, all your males shall appear before the LORD, your God, in the place which he will choose: at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of Weeks, and at the feast of Booths” (Deut 16:16). The law was binding only for adult male who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem. The travel of the Holy Family from Nazareth to Jerusalem was around 70 miles. However, Joseph and Mary took the hardship to attend Temple services every year for the Passover observance at Jerusalem.
the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem
Rabbi Hillel (110 BC–10 AD) recommended women also to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. Though women were not obliged, devoted women went to Jerusalem for that feast. Samuel’s mother Hannah is an example. “Year after year, she went up to the house of the LORD” (1Sam 1:7). Mary, being a devoted woman, went with Joseph every year and they brought Jesus along with him for this one-week celebration. They took offerings with them according to the direction of God, “They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed, but each with his own gift, in proportion to the blessing which the LORD, your God, has given to you” (Deut 16:16-17).
Joseph and Mary’s participation in the Passover every year at Jerusalem shows how the holy family strictly adhered to the Law and fostered their devotion to God. They wanted Jesus to be familiar with the Temple and its practices from an early age. We also need to do the same with our children.
went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover as was customary.
The customary practice was that the Feast of Passover had to take place in Jerusalem because a lamb was to be sacrificed at the Temple. The priests collected the blood of the animal and poured on the altar and the pilgrims took the remaining portion for the Passover meal at their house or camp in Jerusalem. Hence, the Holy Family celebrated the feast at Jerusalem traveling a long distance.
(42) And when Jesus was twelve years old, he went up with them according to the custom for this feast.
When Jesus was twelve years old
According to the Biblical numerology, number 12 represents perfection or authority. The Jews have the practice of bar mitzvah which means “son of the commandments.” “Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish boys and girls when they reach the age of 12 or 13. This ceremony marks the time when a boy or girl becomes a Jewish adult. This means that they are now responsible for their own actions and can decide for themselves how they would like to practice Judaism.” (https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/life-cycle-bar-bat-mitzvah/). They are then bound to the laws of Moses and practice the Jewish rituals.
“Ancient rabbis, writing in the compendium of Jewish law known as the Talmud, did declare that boys are obligated to fulfill the “mitzvot” – the commandments of Jewish law – beginning at the age of 13.” (https://theconversation.com/what-is-a-bar-mitzvah-129745). Though not recorded in the Bible, some Jewish scholars guess that God gave this as a requirement to Moses when he was on Mount Sinai.
He went up with them according to the custom for this feast.
Jesus might have traveled with his parents every year to Jerusalem for the feast. However, his trip at 12 was relevant to mention because he became officially an adult and responsible for religious practices, including fasting on the day of atonement. At that age, Jesus might have put on the phylacteries, which was also a Jewish custom to remind him of the obligation to practice the Law. Phylacteries are two small square leather boxes that contained inscriptions of scripture worn on the left arm and on the forehead during morning weekday prayers by Orthodox Jewish men from the age of 12 or 13.
The pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast was in caravan, as expressed in Psalm 42:5. “When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.” The villagers traveled together in groups for company and protection. They were rejoicing and praising God during their pilgrimage to the Temple. Children of the same age group would walk together, enjoying their companionship.
(43) After the festival was over, they returned, but the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem and his parents did not know it.
The Passover celebration lasted seven days (Ex 12:15; Lev 23:5-6). Joseph and Mary spent at least one week in Jerusalem and returned.
Why did the parents of Jesus miss the boy Jesus on their return trip? Was it a negligence from the part of Joseph and Mary, or of Jesus? The evangelist does not give a clarity on this. Once the Holy Family reached the Temple, Jesus was moving around independently. Since Jesus had officially reached adulthood, Joseph and Mary gave him freedom to walk around by himself or with his friends. He was interested in spending time with the religious scholars who were teaching the pilgrims on the Temple premises. “Many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’ For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isa 2:3).
On the last day of the feast also, the Holy Family visited to the crowded Temple before their departure. Even then, Jesus went to the teachers of the Law as before. The return journey of Joseph and Mary was also with the same pilgrims from Nazareth as a caravan. Joseph was traveling with a group of men and Mary with women, and teenagers and youth enjoyed walking in their group in the caravan. So, the parents thought Jesus was with his friends from Nazareth or with one of them. Mishap of separation of children from their parents was normal in the crowded feast at Jerusalem.
(44) Thinking that he was in the company of the travelers they went a day’s journey. Then they looked for him among their relatives and friends.
The possibility of the mishap was: While Joseph and Mary were packing to return from Jerusalem, Jesus might have been with them. The parents let him go with his friends along with the caravan. When the caravan started from the Temple, the parents did not pay attention to Jesus presuming that he was in the company of the travelers, especially other teenagers from their native place. Walking in group from Jerusalem to reach Nazareth could take four to six days, depending upon their speed. Only when they came for an overnight stay after a one-day journey, the parents realized Jesus was missing. He was immersed in listening and questioning the religious teachers on their interpretations of the Law different from the truth. He was interested in how they interpret the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Only late in the afternoon, he might have realized only his parents already left without him. With no worry, he stayed at the same lodge where Joseph and Mary remained during the feast days and continued worshipping and conversing with the teachers in the Temple.
Joseph and Mary were worried about the absence of Jesus in the caravan that comprised the villagers from Nazareth and neighboring villages. The parents searched Jesus among the relatives and friends who were traveling in different groups or encamping in different tents or lodges.
(45) As they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him.
After a long and tedious journey, Joseph and Mary were worried about missing Jesus. They had to take a rest at night along with others in the group. It was not safe for them to travel at night without others. Early morning, they set out to Jerusalem looking among the crowds on the way and pilgrims returning from the Holy City.
(46) And after three days they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
after three days they found him in the Temple
The journey of Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem in search of Jesus might have taken longer time because they were anxiously searching for him among the groups. Only on the third day after leaving Jerusalem, they reached the Temple and found Jesus. Later in Mary’s life, she lost Jesus for three days by his death on the cross and she regained him on the third day after his resurrection. Both these rescues after missing were relief for Mary.
sitting among the teachers
The Temple was a place of worship and teaching of the Law. Jesus used to teach in the synagogues and Temple premises during his public ministry. Jewish scholars used to sit at Temple galleries and taught the pilgrims and clarified their doubts about the Law, the religious practices, and the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus was sitting among the listeners, though no one there knew he was the Messiah they were talking about.
listening to them and asking them questions
Jesus was an active listener of the teachings of the scholars. He did not need to learn from them because he was the “wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). While listening to the teachers, Jesus politely raised questions so the teachers could correct their wrong understanding and interpretations of the scripture and religious practices. The question-and-answer session was also a method of rabbinical teaching during those days.
(47) And all the people were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Though Jesus was only 12, he was knowledgeable about the questions raised. He could answer tough inquiries that the scholars could not. Jesus had the knowledge of the scriptures, and his interpretation was meaningful and different from the popular understanding and teachings of the scholars. So, no one could refute him. That made the teachers and listeners amaze at his words of wisdom.
When Jesus taught in the synagogue of his hometown at the start of his public ministry, the people were astonished at his wisdom and they asked, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?” (Mt 13:54). They had witnessed him growing up as a normal child with no formal education.
Jesus was also authoritative in his teaching. “He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). While the scribes quoted from the prophets or other scripture passages for the authority of their discourse, Jesus’ teaching started with the phrase, “Truly, truly I say to you.” He manifested his wisdom and correct understanding of the scripture even at a young age in the Temple.
According to Psalm 119, keeping the commandments of God makes one wiser than his teachers and elders. “Your commandment makes me wiser than my foes, as it is forever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, because I ponder your testimonies. I have more understanding than my elders, because I keep your precepts” (Psalm 119:98-100).
(48) His parents were very surprised when they saw him, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried while searching for you.”
His parents were very surprised when they saw him
After a long and anxious search for their missing child, Joseph and Mary were thrilled to find Jesus. Along with the relief, they were amazed at where he was and what he was doing. He was not playing with other children of his age. Instead, their 12-year-old son was still in the Temple courtyard listening to the scholars and discussing with them like an adult, with much understanding to the surprise of his listeners. His debate with the scholars was par excellent in wisdom. The parents might have felt proud of their son. However, they were annoyed that Jesus did not let them know he would remain in the Temple. So, the parents had mixed feelings. Though Jesus seemed to be a lost child for three days for the parents, they found him doing his call as the Messiah for the first time.
his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us?
Though Joseph was the foster father of Jesus, Joseph did not address Jesus at that time. He let Mary, the mother to address her son. Mary, knowing the divinity of her son and appreciating his performance in the Temple, spoke to him with respect and affection. However, she expressed him Joseph’s and her worry when they missed him and while searching for almost three days.
Your father and I have been very worried while searching for you.
Joseph and Mary knew Jesus was an exceptional child, God entrusted to their care. So, both were worried about what happened to him and how they could find him. If something bad happened to him, they would be answerable to God because, besides their own son, he was the Son of God. Mary expressed her feelings to Jesus so that a similar situation should not happen in the future.
(49) Then he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Why were you looking for me?
The implied meaning is why you were so much worried about Jesus. Though he was under the care of human parents, he had the protection from God.
Another shade of meaning is why you have been searching for me elsewhere besides the Temple. As the Son of God, I should be in His house.
This expressed his independence as a Jewish adult. While loyal to the parents, he could make independent decisions in religious matters. This was not just an answer to Mary’s question, but a revelation of himself as one to be fully occupied with the works of his Father. However, only at 30 did Jesus leave his home and mother to do full-time ministry.
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
My Father: This is the first time the evangelist presents Jesus talking. During that initial dialogue, Jesus revealed God as his Father. The major accusation of the Jewish leaders against Jesus was blasphemy. He presented himself as the Son of God, sharing the essence of God and presenting God as his Father. Many including Angel Gabriel while talking to Mary (Lk 1:35), the disciples, John the Baptist (Jn 1:34), Nathanael (Jn 1:49), Martha (Jn 11:27), the centurion and others who crucified Jesus (Mt 27:54; Mk 15:39), and demons (Mt 8:29; Mk 5:7; Lk 8:28) called Jesus, “Son of God”.
My Father’s house: Since the Temple is the house of God and Jesus being the Son of God, he considered the Temple as the house of his Father. While cleansing the Temple, he said to those who sold doves, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (Jn 2:16).
My Father’s work: Jesus’ expression to Mary, “I must be in my Father’s house?” literally means, “I must be in the things of my Father.” Another translation is “I must be about my Father’s work.” When the Jewish community acknowledged Jesus as an adult at age 12, he started engaging in the work of his Father. Though he started his public ministry after 18 more years, he engaged in the work of His Father for a few days in his Father’s house by participating in the theological discussion with the religious scholars. As a Jewish adult and the Son of God, his responsibilities to the Father took precedence over his earthly parents.
Jesus expressed his preference to do the work of his Father on other occasions. During his encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus told his disciples, who offered him food, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn 4:34). To prove his divinity, Jesus told the Jews, “But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me” (Jn 5:36).
I must: The Father had assigned Jesus the obligation to do His will. When the crowd wanted to make Jesus their king after the multiplication of loves, he told them, “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 6:38). Jesus did that in the Temple. So, he was right in staying at the Temple after Passover, to continue his involvement in the scriptural discussion.
(50) But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Since the nature and mission of Jesus differed from others, his life involved mysteries. The listeners and even the disciples could not understand the parables (Mk 4:10-12) and prediction of his passion because the meaning of his teachings was hidden from them (Lk 9:45; 18:34). His parables were earthly stories with heavenly meanings, which were difficult to comprehend when he preached. His passion and crucifixion were the sacrifice he voluntarily chose for the salvation of humanity. The Holy Spirit had to reveal later the meaning of Jesus’ teachings to the disciples. Jesus told the disciples, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that told you” (Jn 14:26).
So, Jesus’ staying in the Temple and his response to Mary were not disobedience or disrespect but the right actions from the God’s point of view. Joseph and Mary did not understand what Jesus spoke about the works of his Father in the Temple.
(51) Jesus went down with them, returning to Nazareth, and he continued to be under their authority. As for his mother, she kept all these things in her heart.
Jesus went down with them, returning to Nazareth
Though traveling from Jerusalem to Nazareth was from south to north, the evangelist records they went down because Jerusalem was situated 2,474 feet and Nazareth 1,138 feet above sea level. If they were passing through Jericho, the usual route to avoid Samaria, they were descending deeper because Jericho is -846.5 feet below sea level. The distance between Jerusalem and Jericho is about 18 miles, and within that distance, the travelers would descend more than half a mile in elevation. So, the expression of one traveling to Jerusalem from anywhere is “going up” and returning from there is “going down.”
he continued to be under their authority.
Jesus, who lived under the authority of his parents, continued to be courteous and helpful to the parents, keeping the commandment of God to respect the parents. Though God, Jesus humbled himself and subjected to the directives of human parents setting example for children. St. Paul wrote, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8). Jesus respected the authority of the heavenly Father and the earthly parents and obeyed them
As the only child in the family, Jesus might have engaged in helping Joseph in his building career and Mary in helping with her domestic duties. He might have engaged in theological discussions with the teachers in the Temple, while going to Jerusalem for the feasts, during the rest 18 years before he started his public ministry.
The evangelists who came to know Jesus only from the time of his public ministry were not aware of the activities of Jesus during his private life. They did not rely on the stories that might have spread about Jesus during his life in Nazareth with parents because of the lack of evidence or because of their irrelevance to the readers.
As for his mother, she kept all these things in her heart.
Luke, who interviewed Mary, realized how she could clearly recollect everything that had happened related to the incarnation and childhood of Jesus. It is natural that we remember stirring events of our lives, even from childhood.
The evangelists do not mention Joseph hereafter because he might have died during the 18 more years of Jesus’ private life in the family. He might have been supporting Mary after the death of his foster father.
Along with the previous events, starting with the annunciation by Angel Gabriel, Mary had many poignant memories kept in her heart. The missing of Jesus and searching for almost three days, finding him in the Temple doing the work of his Father, and later his subjection to the authority of the parents, and supporting them until he started his public ministry were also memorable experiences Mary kept intact in her mind.o:p>
(52) And Jesus increased in wisdom and in age and in grace with God and men.
God created his son Adam in his image and likeness as an adult. God created Eve also as a grown-up woman from the rib of Adam. However, God let Jesus, the Son of God to be born and grow as any other person in a family with parents. The evangelist documents the growth of Jesus similar to that of Samuel. “Young Samuel was growing in stature and in worth in the estimation of the LORD and the people” (1 Sam 2:26). Jesus’ family life from childhood was the perfect model for children and youth. His exemplary life pleased his villagers and God.
Though Jesus was God and the seat of wisdom, he had the humble growth in the physical, mental, and wisdom levels like other ordinary children. This shows how he became totally one among us except sin. His behavior as a child and youth pleased everyone, including God. He did not perform miracles until the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism in River Jordan from John. His first miracle to manifest the glory of God was at the wedding banquet at Cana in Galilee (Jn 2:1-11). Since nothing extra-ordinary happened during the 18 years after his parents found him in the Temple, the evangelists summarized, Jesus grew in wisdom appropriate to his age and he led a life pleasing to everybody.