Thursday 31 December 2015

Found in the Temple: A Thoughtless Scamp?

This was not the escapade of a young imp. That would be an earthbound lesson to draw from the episode. I don’t even think it was one lesson among others. Something far more momentous was happening.

Jesus was “about” twelve years old at the time of the visit to Jerusalem. He might have celebrated His bar-mitzvah ceremony, or have been about to celebrate it. I go along with the idea that the party travelled in separate male and female groups. A boy of His age could well have been expected to accompany either group.

After their frantic search, Mary and Joseph must have derived some small comfort from the fact that He was in the safety of the Temple, and in such erudite and kindly company.

Nonetheless, Mary did her duty as a loving mother, telling her Son about the distress she and Joseph had experienced, and asking the reason why He had done such a thing to them. And in response she and Joseph received, not an apology, but a challenge. He was to challenge individuals later on, in His public life. Think of the Syrophoenician woman who asked Him to free her daughter from an unclean spirit, and He spoke of house-dogs. They seemed harsh words of rebuff, but they brought forth a response of faith and trust that gladdened His heart and led to the longed-for healing of her daughter, and to the gladdening of her own heart.

And so, with gentle but utterly strange words, He challenged his dear ones: Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business, in My Father’s house? These were not the defiant words of a stubborn, wayward child to his parents. They sounded like the words of One Who had authority. Imagine the astonishment in the minds of Mary and Joseph, the shiver of sensing that they were once again, after so many quiet, domestic years, in the presence of the Numinous.

Most astoundingly, this twelve-year-old boy revealed that He knew Who He was … and Who His Father was. In bringing up this precious Child, Mary and Joseph would surely have told Jesus nothing unless they had been given permission to do so. They would have waited upon the Lord for guidance, as they had done from the beginning.

What a strange feeling must have gone like a bolt through the heart of Joseph! I sometimes connect this scene with the words of John the Baptist: He must increase, but I must decrease. Loving husband and foster-father that he was, did he experience a similar thought?

The Syrophoenician woman: See Mark 7: 25-30
John the Baptist: See John 3:30
One Who had authority: See Mark 1:22

Picture from, via Google Images