Their eldest son had never given them a bit of trouble. Obedient, loving, respectful, they watched Jesus grow and became strong. His miraculous birth and identity never left Mary and Joseph’s thoughts, even as they raised him like any other Jewish boy. But their boy was different, filled with wisdom and with the grace of God upon him.
This year the family’s annual pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover held special significance as Jesus had reached twelve, the age when he could fully participate in the religious life of the synagogue. Up to this time he was under the tutelage of his parents concerning Jewish religious law, but now he was a bar mitzvah, a “son of the commandment,” on the brink of manhood.
After the Feast was over, they made ready, along with their large company, to travel home. Mary’s hands were full with packing and caring for her younger children so she assumed Jesus was among the company. She believed in his good judgement and had no reason to worry. Joseph came to the same conclusion, for he too implicitly trusted Jesus to behave responsibly.
“After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.” (Luke 2:43 NIV) Jesus had stayed behind in the temple, a logical place for his parents to look for him when they were ready to depart. However, they did not come because it appears both thought him to be with the other. Once they realized Jesus was not with their company, they spent another day returning to Jerusalem to find him. Their conversation as they hurried along may have been somewhat accusatory of each other’s negligence or surprised at what appeared to be Jesus’ defiance of their authority. They may have momentarily forgotten that this was the Son of God they were looking for, but they soon were reminded when “they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (vs. 46-47)
Mary’s anxiety came out in her reproving questions of Jesus’ perceived disregard for their concern. But his reply held no insolence, only genuine amazement that they did not know where to look for Him. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (vs. 49) In other words, ‘you shouldn’t have had to seek at all. For you know, don’t you, that there is within me an inner necessity to be about my Father’s business?’ This should have been an epiphanous moment for Mary and Joseph, when Jesus declares his unique sonship to God, which takes precedence over his closest earthly family ties. Yet the scriptures state they did not understand what he was saying to them.
In spite of who they knew him to be, he was still just their boy whom they had raised as best they could and who brought them much joy. Their lack of understanding might be attributed to their familiarity with this child they lived with daily, and perhaps a reluctance to acknowledge the beginning of his independence away from them toward his divine ministry and his true Father. Gifted with the singular privilege of parenting Jesus, his mother would come to treasure all these things she knew of him in her heart, (vs. 51) just as she did when he was born. She would do so for the rest of her life , until welcomed home to heaven by her son and Savior.