It happens all the time. You misplace your kid. He wanders down an aisle at Toys-R-Us; she goes off on her own in the mall. Kids have a tendency to do that. But when the kid you misplace is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the stakes go up considerable. When the Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us things are never quite “normal” again.
The normal things was for every Israelite family to go up to Jerusalem four times a year for the major feasts. One of them was the Passover. Kids could stay at home until they were twelve. Then the boys were obligated to appear before the teachers of the Torah in the temple for instruction. Now don’t get any bright ideas about keeping the kids at home on Sunday until they’re twelve. This had to do with pilgrimages to Jerusalem. For Mary and Joseph coming from Nazareth, that would have been about a three or four day trip, not something you do with little kids. But when a boy was twelve, it was time for him to join the men of Israel. That’s why Luke gives us this episode. It records the end of Jesus’ childhood and the beginning of his manhood.
As I said, when the Word become Flesh, things are never again quite the same. Think about it. The One who is the Torah in the Flesh appears before the teachers of the Torah for the first time and they are amazed at the wisdom that is coming out of this twelve year old kid from Nazareth. Where did He learn this stuff so well? The Wisdom of God in the flesh, of which Solomon had only a small sampling, was now sitting among the teachers. And the teacher becomes the student, and the student the teacher.
It’s understandable that Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus. After all, Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims, the temple was crowded. They had likely traveled in a large group of family and neighbors from Nazareth, and twelve year old boys aren’t necessarily going to be clinging to their mother’s skirts, especially when they have to be in their Father’s house.
It took a couple of days, actually, for them to realize that Jesus wasn’t with them. And then they searched the streets of Jerusalem anxiously looking for Him. After three anxious days (why does it always take three days?) they found Him in the temple, sitting among the Torah teachers, engaged in conversation with them, listening to them and asking them questions. And they were amazed at His insights into the Word. This was no ordinary twelve year old.
There are prodigies in many things – art, music, math, science. But not in theology. Mozart could dazzle people at the piano at the age of four. Tiger Woods could swing a mean golf club at the age of five. But you don’t find precocious theologians. Yes, you do see “spiritual kids,” kids who have a deep interest in the Word of God and ask insightful questions. But I have yet to run across or hear of a true prodigy in theology. In fact, very often those “spiritual kids” manage to think their way right out of the faith when they hit the age of eighteen or so. That’s because the things of God are not natural to fallen humanity, in fact, natural man born in sin cannot even discern them. There may be naturally given gifts of music and artistic ability. But the knowledge of God is not a natural thing; it is something revealed by God through His Spirit working through the Word.
You can understand the rabbis’ amazement at this kid named Jesus. He asked questions they hadn’t thought of asking. He connected dots they didn’t know existed. He is the Word in the Flesh, the Torah as a living, breathing human being. But the rabbis couldn’t have known this. Nor could they have known why He was there – to fulfill all righteousness. To do the Law in our place as our substitute. To become obedient to His parents and teachers under the 4th commandment, to honor, serve, obey, love and cherish Mary and Joseph and all the other authorities placed over Him even though He was King of kings and Lord of lords.
This was His great servant humility, that being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the Law, even to death on a cross. Mary would lose her Son again for three days, not in the temple but on the cross and in the tomb. For Mary, this was a bit of a warm up, a practice run, a reminder as to who this Child of hers was.
She’s seems to have forgotten, if only for a brief panic-stricken moment. “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching high and low for you in great distress!” She sounds like any mother who has lost her child in a crowd. But notice something here. Jesus refuses to address her as mother. Oh, He is polite, deferential, even obedient. But He never calls her “mother” even when she calls Him “son.” At the wedding at Cana and at the cross, He calls her “Woman,” a title of honor and dignity, like our “ma’am” or “madam.” But not “mother.”
When Mary and Jesus’ brothers came to take Him into protective custody, and people said to Him, “Your mother and brothers are here for you, “ Jesus looked at the people gathered around Him hearing His words and said, “These are my mother and brothers.” Mary is certainly His mother, the honored instrument of the Incarnation, most highly favored and blessed among women, but her Son is her Lord, her Christ, and her Savior.
“Your father and I have been searching for you.” Perhaps it’s just a way of speaking. Joseph was, after all, the surrogate father, given to raise the Son of God in the Flesh. And when the Word becomes Flesh, nothing is really “normal” at all. Jesus issues the firm yet gentle correction. “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He calls the temple his Father’s house. Solomon, the Son of David, had built the temple (at least the first rendition of it). Now the greater Son of David comes to the temple to claim it as HIs own. He is at home here; in HIs Father’s house.
More for blessed Mary to ponder in her heart. This boy become a man was no ordinary Child, but destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel. A sword would pierce her own soul too, as she helplessly stood at the foot of the cross to watch Him die. She would remember this incident and then understand that her Son did not belong to her. Her Son is the only-begotten of the Father, given in love to the world to be the world’s Savior. She could not hold Him to herself, as mothers are want to do with their sons. This One belonged to the world. He who is the Wisdom of God incarnate, the Word of God in the Flesh, takes His first steps as a man among the men of Israel, and His mother must learn to let Him go to do what He came to do.
The most amazing verse of this whole incident is this one: “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” He goes from HIs Father’s house back to HIs father’s house to be ordered under, subordinate to His parents. Born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law. Becoming obedient even unto death on a cross. In order to fulfill all righteousness.
He was submissive. Better translated subordinate. Ordered under another. It’s the same word for wives to husbands, servants to masters, children to parents. We live under holy order, ordered under parents and other authorities. Our sinful natures bridle against this from our birth from the defiant temper tantrum to the willful breaking of the law to all of our crimes and misdemeanors. We are by conception and birth rebel children, turned against our mothers and fathers on earth, turned against our Father who is in heaven. This is our sorry lot as children of Father Adam.
This Child of Mary who is the Son of God, came to be our righteousness, to fulfill the Law where we could not and would not. Though He was owed the obedience of Mary and Joseph as their Lord, He become obedient to them as their Son. Though over them, He was ordered under them. Though the Lord of all, He became the servant of all. Though He was the Wisdom of God, He sat at the feet of teachers and learned in ordered obedience. For us. For you. For your salvation. His obedience is your righteousness before God, your holiness, the clothing by which you, a sinner, stand before a righteous God justified.
God sees you as His Son, clothed with Christ in your Baptism. Your disobedience is washed away; Jesus’ obedience covers you, a perfect robe of righteousness. What that means, practically speaking, is that Jesus’ Father is your Father, His Father’s house is your house, His wisdom is your wisdom, His death and life are your death and life. You live in, with, and under the life of God’s perfect Child. His obedient life is His gift to you; and your obedient life is your gift of thanks to Him who came as a Child to save you.
In the name of Jesus,