In this week’s gospel passage, we get a look at a moment in the life of the holy family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus. But there’s more to this account than meets the eye. The passage is taken from the gospel of Luke. It relates an incident that took place when Jesus was twelve years old. His parents had brought him to Jerusalem to celebrate his first Passover as an adult. Travel during Passover was a fun time because extended families traveled together in caravans enjoying each other’s company and catching up on things. Mary and Joseph each thought that Jesus was with the other parent. They had been traveling back to Nazareth for an entire day and only noticed that Jesus wasn’t with them when they stopped to camp for the night. Panicking, they immediately took the dangerous road back to Jerusalem by themselves. They finally discovered him three days later speaking with the teachers in the temple.
This episode most certainly speaks to every parent. What parent wouldn’t be in a panic if they couldn’t locate their child for even five minutes, never mind three days! As my mother said many times, parents never stop worrying about the welfare of their kids, no matter how old their kids might be.
The story of the finding of Jesus in the temple reveals to everyone the humanity of the “holy family.” Anxiety was part of their family life just as it’s part of ours. But there’s also a symbolic element to the passage that makes the story even more compelling.
The day will come when Jesus will again be “lost” for three days. He’ll be killed on a Friday and discovered alive again on Sunday, the day of his resurrection. Christians have come to identify his passage through life, death and resurrection as the paschal mystery.
The story of the finding of Jesus in the temple is a teaching about the movement of this mystery throughout our lives. As individuals, as communities, and as families, we go through cycles of life, death and resurrection. Jesus modeled this mystery in his own life.
When we extend this dynamic to our relationships with friends, associates, colleagues and groups we see that the paschal mystery reaches into our communal experiences as well as our personal lives, and anxiety is once again part of the experience.
For instance, today, many are anxious about the Church and its future. How will the Western Church go on without priests and nuns? Many are anxious about the future of our nation. How will we go on without the democracy we once knew? The Church and the nation aren’t excluded from the life, death, and resurrection of the paschal mystery. And we ask the same question of God as Mary asked of Jesus. “Why have you done this to us?”
The story of the finding in the temple ends with a short, cryptic dialogue. “His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been searching 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?’”
Mary’s question is easy for us to understand. In fact, we can all shout “ditto!!”
Jesus’ answer, however, poses a challenge. Why in the world would he ask his parents, “Why were you looking for me?” Why should they have NOT been looking for him? The second part of his question seems even more challenging. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Just remember this. Faith and trust are key elements of the paschal mystery. Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would assist them through their paschal process. Hiding in the upper room, paralyzed by anxiety, they waited for the Spirit he promised. That Spirit finally came with the power of wind and flame and obliterated their anxiety. With the anxiety gone, Peter got up to speak and the 3000 people who listened to him were baptized that day. They trusted Jesus’ promise and waited for the Spirit. The Spirit came, and the Church was born. They had returned to the security of their father’s house. Their paschal journey led them home. They were ready for whatever the future would bring.
This moment in the life of the holy family gives us great food for thought, and inspiration for our prayer. “They did not understand what he said to them,” but they put their faith and trust in God. They returned to Nazareth celebrating as he “advanced in wisdom and age and favor with God and man.” Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” She would be ready to support him when his hour came, when he submitted to the paschal mystery.