The Gospel for December 27th, 2015: “The Boy Jesus in the Temple”
Luke 2: 41-52
Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking 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. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
This passage is the subject for mediation in the fifth Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary prayer sequence. The spiritual gift of this episode is obedience. I have often wondered what it is about this passage that should lead us to contemplate obedience. Is it line 51 only where Jesus is “obedient” to His parents’ wishes for Him to return to Nazareth with them? Certainly, I admire the boy Jesus’s honoring of His mother and father’s wishes, and yet I think this passage has more to say about obedience than the modeling in that example alone.
The other instructive manifestation of Jesus’s obedience can be inferred from His innocent response to His mother’s scolding question, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (48). Jesus is surprised and yet without shame. He replies, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (49). Why must He be in His Father’s house? I think it is His Father’s will that the boy who will soon be a man is beginning to prepare for His public ministry, and where better than the temple. In fact according to the study notes of my NAB Revised Edition, the second question may also be read, “I must be about my Father’s work.” While it creates a difficult experience for Mary and Joseph that He didn’t tell them, the essential fact is Jesus acts on His Father’s call to begin His vocation. In other words, His obedience to His Heavenly Father supersedes His obedience to His worldly parents. Furthermore, it is necessary that Mary and Joseph begin to learn this to prepare them for the more difficult parting with His death on the cross. As parents, they will need to accept God’s will in their earthly son’s destiny as well.
Once revealed in our lives, obedience to God’s will can be difficult to accept. Like Jesus, we will have to disobey worldly expectations from ourselves or others or both. Jesus goes to the temple not as a disobedient twelve-year-old running away from His parents, but rather as the son of God responding immediately to His heavenly Father’s call. I think the deeper lesson is that we must do the same and also without shame when God calls us to carry out His plans for us. And if we hesitate to act out of fear, let us remember the position of this story in the Rosary. This is a joyful mystery. We will experience the joy of closeness to our Lord in acting as an instrument of His love.