(Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)
And the child grew and became strong; He was filled
with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
Each year Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem for the Passover, and the year Jesus was twelve years old was no different. But what happened afterward was not expected.
When the celebration was over, a group headed home. It was safer and more enjoyable to travel in caravans than alone. Mary and Joseph were going to Nazareth about 70 miles away, and they assumed Jesus was among the travelers; perhaps with relatives or friends. But when Jesus didn't show up in the evening, they were concerned. His parents went looking for him, and when they didn't find him, they returned to Jerusalem.
If you are a parent, then you know the fear that would come over you, the fear that Mary and Joseph must have felt as they headed back to find their son. I remember coming home from a vacation and stopping at a gas station. We all got out and went inside. Our daughter, who was maybe three at the time, was with one of her brothers. I had the baby, and my husband was putting gas in the tank. When we were finished, we piled back in the car and left. About 30 minutes down the road, we discovered we had left our daughter back at the gas station. Fear immediately set in and a thousand thoughts raced through our minds. Was our little girl safe? Was she still at the station? How could we have left her? How did we not know she wasn't in the car for thirty minutes? What were we thinking? Thankfully, God's favor was on us, and our daughter was still at the station and was safe with one of the attendants.
Jesus' parents may have had similar questions going through their minds, and whereas it took us thirty minutes before we had our daughter back, it was three days before Mary and Joseph found Jesus. He was sitting in the Temple among the religious leaders, listening to them and asking questions. The Bible tells us that all who heard Jesus were amazed at his understanding and the questions he asked.
Since Jesus was twelve years old and not three, his parents apparently couldn't understand why he thought it was alright that he stayed behind. Mary asked him why he had done this to them? Didn't he know that they would be frantic, and searching for him everywhere? One commentary says, "Her language implies that Jesus had been fully instructed as to the time when his parents and their caravan would depart for Galilee, and that he was expected to depart with them. Obedience to his higher duties constrained him to appear disobedient to his parents." Jesus had a higher calling, and that was to His Father in heaven. Jesus replied, "Why did you have to search? Didn't you know I must be in my Father's house?" Jesus seemed to miss the point. He didn't appear to think there was anything wrong with him not telling his parents where he was going, and he just let them leave Jerusalem not knowing. His response had to do more with why they would search for him when they should know where he would be.
Today, not knowing where your twelve-year-old child is would be unthinkable, especially if you are leaving town. But it was different in those days. It was even different in the days I grew up. When I was a child, the rule was "Be home when the street lights come on." We didn't need to tell our parents where we were as long as we were home by the right time. But Jesus was not going to be with his parents when they would expect him to show up. So, it still doesn't answer the question as to why Jesus thought it was okay not to tell his parents he wasn't going home with them. He knew he wouldn't be with them once evening came. And though it seems odd to me that Jesus wasn't intentionally disobeying (we know He was sinless), I must trust that Jesus' higher calling, even as a twelve-year-old, did indeed mean he wasn't wrong in what He did.
Another commentary says, "It’s very likely that the entire situation was a misunderstanding rather than a case of Jesus deliberately defying his parents’ instructions." If it was a misunderstanding, then we can accept it because all parents and children have misunderstandings at times. But if His higher calling gave Jesus the right to be in the Temple instead of traveling home with the caravan, then we must trust that Jesus was not sinning by staying behind.
His parents didn't understand what Jesus meant when He asked them why they didn't know He must be in His Father's house. Why didn't they understand? Think back to all that the angel had told them about their son, and the things that transpired at his birth and within his first two years. Had they forgotten? Unlikely. Did Jesus seem like an ordinary child up to this point? Possibly except He never sinned, which isn't normal at all. For whatever the reason was that they didn't understand, we aren't told. Nothing more is said. But how often are we just like Mary and Joseph, not realizing the truth at first, and not grasping what later may appear obvious? Or we're unable to process what is said because our feelings are overtaking our rational minds? The Bible only tells us that Jesus returned home with his parents and was obedient to them. And that Mary stored all these things in her heart.
We know Mary tended to remember things because she kept them in her heart. Later, I believe it would come in very handy when she saw her son suffering. But for now, Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God.