Luke 2:41-52

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.

This is one of those passages that is hard for modern hearers to understand, largely because our lives are so markedly different than those in Jesus’ day.

How, we wonder, could a family leave a child, let alone not notice for an entire day? We imagine the analogy would be like taking a family vacation to New York City, and driving home in our minivan never noticing that our child wasn’t there until we were near Chicago, then driving back and searching for three days only to find him in Times Square.

But life in ancient times wasn’t nearly as individualistic as it is today and there was no nuclear family. Families – extended families, distant relatives, members of the local village and community – would have all taken such a pilgrimage together. They were likely joined on the way by other families, other caravans of pilgrims, and all formed a loose company. In this kind of setting, every child had multiple parents and every adult looked after whatever children were nearby.

So what’s most odd about this story isn’t that Jesus remained behind and they didn’t notice. According to Jesus, what’s odd is that his parents wouldn’t know just where to find him. Three days they search in vain, until the find him doing the will of his Father.

Three days. Doubtless there is some symbolism here, as his disciples will also wonder and search and grieve in vain for three days before they discover that he was again doing the will of his Father.

But if it seems odd to Jesus that his parents couldn’t locate him immediately, what may seem just as odd to us is his mother’s reaction. Not the first one – that one we can identify with immediately. She is anxious, upset, maybe even furious. But after Jesus explains – actually retorts – that they should have known he would be in the Temple, his mother, although not understanding, treasures all these things.

Just like at his birth. Except this time just what she is treasuring is less clear. It can’t be losing him, or searching in vain, or receiving his sharp retort in response to their questions. So what is it?

Perhaps it’s the feeling every parent gets when you see your child grow beyond you, when you see your child fulfill his or her potential and live into his or her destiny. Perhaps in this moment Mary remembers all the prophecies and promises of twelve years earlier and it suddenly sinks in that, yes, this is her son, God’s son, the redeemer of the world. Something, indeed, to treasure.

Prayer: Dear God, draw us to search for you where you will be found — in acts of mercy, compassion, and kindness, that we might treasure in our hearts, and witness to in our actions, your profound love. Amen.