Updated: Jan 8, 2022
(Adults, you could begin by reading the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
The feast has come! We waited for so long and now we celebrate! For three Sundays, we celebrate our joy at the coming of Jesus into the world. As we celebrate, we spend time thinking about who he is. We marvel that he comes into the world not as a fully grown man knowing everything there is to know, but as a child—a child with a family, a child who has to learn and grow. In the Gospel for this Sunday, we hear about Jesus when he is twelve years old.
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.
We know that Jerusalem is the most holy city for the Jewish people because in Jerusalem is the Temple, and in the Temple is the Holy of Holies—the presence of God. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are Jewish. It is an important part of the Jewish faith to celebrate the Passover meal each year. It is important to Mary and Joseph that their child grows in the faith. Growing in the faith means growing in relationship with God.
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.
If Jesus is in Jerusalem, the most holy city, we can guess where he will be.
After three days they found him in the temple
(Of course he is 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.
Jesus has been separated from his parents, relatives, and friends for four days. One day of travel for the caravan of people walking back to Nazareth and three more days while Mary and Joseph search for him. We wonder how he feels, during all that time alone.
When Mary and Joseph find him, Jesus is with the teachers. These are people who study scripture. These are people who have a relationship with God. What is Jesus doing with them?
First of all, Jesus is listening. He is also asking questions. Why? When we both listen and ask questions, it is because we want to learn. We ask questions, of course, because there are so many things we do not know. We listen because we want to grow in understanding. So does Jesus. Even if his understanding is already amazing, Jesus wants to know God more. He is growing in relationship with God.
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?’
Why were they searching for him? Why were they searching for him?? Isn't that a ridiculous question? They are his parents! They love him! They are worried when they do not know where he is!
But perhaps it is not a ridiculous question. Jesus does not ask, "Why did you come to find me?" but, "Why were you searching?" Perhaps Jesus means, "Why did it take you so long?" That is a good question. It took Mary and Joseph three days to find him. It would take one day to walk back to Jerusalem. But that leaves two more days. Where were they looking for those two days? We knew he would be in the Temple. Why did Mary and Joseph not know?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’
He must be there, he says. What does "must" mean? Does it mean that someone is making him do this? No. Like us, Jesus has a choice. He can say yes to God or he can say no. But Jesus' whole life is a great, huge YES to God. When he says he must be in his Father's house, he is speaking of something deep within him. He is speaking of a need. Jesus needs to be there, in his Father's house, listening, asking questions, learning. He has to be.
Do we have that kind of need? Do we have a need deep inside of us to listen, to ask questions, to learn? Do we have a need to understand more? Do we have a need to know God?
Absolutely we do.
Jesus understands our need to know God because he has that need, too. He also knows what it feels like to be separated from the ones who love us most. Perhaps this is why, years later when he tells the Parable of the Found Sheep he says,
‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
Jesus knows our need for God and when we are separated, he does not rest until we are with God again.
When he is a child in the Temple, Jesus learns so much. He feeds his need for God. We can do what Jesus does. We can feed our need. We can listen. We can ask questions. We can grow in our relationship with God.