Luke tells of one particularly trying experience that occurred during the trek back to Galilee after the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the central Jewish feast of Passover in Jerusalem. Apparently, Mary and Joseph allowed their growing 12-year-old son the freedom of moving around the caravan from Nazareth during the journey; so they were not at first concerned that they did no see him during the first day of the return trip. But soon they began to ask relatives and acquaintances whether they had seen Jesus. Not finding him, they returned anxiously to Jerusalem, where he had remained without bothering to let his parents know! They finally found him, after three days. (Did Luke think of another three-day experience of loss and finding at the end of Jesus’ life, when he wrote these words? How could he not? He knows whose boyhood he is writing about.)
There was their twelve-year-old in the temple, astounding the teachers with his understanding and his answers. It was the kind of performance that would make any parents glow with pride in their young prodigy. But Mary’s immediate reaction was that of any distraught mom finding a wandering child: “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety?” And Jesus’ answer? Full if knowing double meaning: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?--also translatable as “Did you no know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Either way, Jesus is referring to the profound fact that he has another Father, the Most High Himself.
And Luke says, “But they did not understand what he said to them.” We the readers are so familiar with Jesus’ identity as divine and human that we think we understand just fine. So we can miss the reality that nothing revealed to Mary by angelic disclosure had prepared her for this unexpected challenge from her adolescent son.
Luke’s main intent is probably to help us appreciate this mysterious unfolding of Jesus’ identity and divine and human. But we have something to learn from Mary’s maternal wrestling with the mysterious sense of mission emerging in her son. Luke says that she “kept all these things in her heart.” Even for her, learning to live with Jesus was a long learning process. We should not be surprised that learning to be Jesus’ follower is also a matter of keeping these things in our hearts—the surprising challenges to our presuppositions that Jesus presents to us as we continue to look for him and sometimes find ourselves confronted by the One we meet.
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