When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
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 travellers, 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 favour.
This curious passage is the only account we have of Jesus’ childhood and it’s hard to know who we’d place ourselves with in this situation. Would we stand alongside Mary and Joseph squabbling about who’d seen Jesus last and whose job it was to check on him?
Would we be part of the crowd feeling sorry for the hapless parents but checking our own kids were safe?
Can we imagine the frantic searching in Jerusalem, retracing their steps until going to the Temple – maybe to pray in utter desperation.
Can we imagine the relief, giving way to astonishment, to find Jesus in the Temple?
Would we be alongside Jesus teaching in the Temple or would we see him as a bit precocious?
I’m sure Joseph and Mary would have been tempted to give Jesus, at best, a good telling off after all that worry. It’s all very well saying that thereafter he was obedient to them but that experience would have scared the wits out of Mary and Joseph just as it would any parents.
Luke is trying to express two truths about Jesus with which we wrestle – divinity and humanity. As God the Son he was fine; he was in the Temple, chatting Scripture and theology and having a grand old time. As a human he was a missing child that hadn’t thought through how he’d worry his parents. We wonder at this union between the divine and the human – was it a growing awareness of his divine nature or did he know even at this age? Could one live with such knowledge?
Ultimately, we don’t know how Jesus resolved any tension between his divine and human natures – it is, after all, a mystery to be contemplated rather than a puzzle to be solved but a rich strand in Eastern Orthodox theology is that Jesus became one with humanity so that we might become one with God. We seek to unite our humanity – with its glories and flaws – with divinity.
Finish, then, O God, thy new creation; true and spotless let us be. Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee. Changed from glory into glory, till in heav’n we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise. Amen
Charles Wesley 1747
The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four churches in and around Glasgow.