Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When 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.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Translation: And his parents were going to Jerusalem every year to the feast of passover. And when he was of twelve years, they went up according to the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know. But supposing him to be in the caravan, they went a day's way, and they were seeking him in the relatives and acquaintances. And they did not find, (and) they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. And it happened after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, and listening to them, and asking them questions. But all the ones hearing him were astonished on his understanding and his decisions.
And seeing him, they were exceedingly struck in mind and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you done so to us? Behold, your father and I have been seeking you sorrowing." He said to them, "Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in the things of my father?" And they did not understand the word he said to them. And he went down with them and they came into Nazareth and he was subject to them. And his mother kept all the words in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and maturity, and grace from God and humanity.
As is well-known, this is the only episode from the childhood of Jesus in the canonical scriptures. In fact, it is the only episode from the life of Jesus between about two years of age and the beginning of his public ministry at about the age of thirty. (Other such stories do occur, however, in some non-canonical writings, such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and others.)
In these opening chapters of Luke, Joseph and Mary are portrayed as especially devout and righteous. In Luke, Joseph has no qualms about Mary's pregnancy. (That's in Matthew.) They have just had Jesus circumsized (2:21) following which they are said to have acted "according to the law" three times.
In this week's lection, Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph go to the passover festival in Jerusalem "every year." This emphasis on their participation is repeated in the next sentence, and Joseph and Mary are said to observe the "custom of the feast." With this accent on the family's religious devotion, Luke is saying that Jesus' family life was oriented toward the purposes of God, and that the Jewish boy Jesus grew up in a thoroughly Jewish world.
Yet, in verse 43, Jesus is also acting independently. His parents were on their way home, but he stays in Jerusalem. His parents assume that he is with the "caravan" of folks heading back north, yet, without informing them, Jesus has apparently "slipped away" and stayed in the city.
Independent travel was dangerous, and people often traveled in groups, usually with relatives. The entourage in this particular caravan included both "relatives and acquaintances," which could mean a fairly large crowd.
Joseph and Mary don't miss Jesus for a whole day. When they realize he is missing, they searched high and low in the group, then returned to Jerusalem. This also means that if and when they do find Jesus, they will be traveling back north by themselves, which was much more dangerous than traveling with a "caravan."
Twice, Joseph and Mary are said to be "seeking" Jesus. This puts Jesus' parents, Joseph and Mary, in the same position as the rest of us. Later, "multitudes" also seek Jesus (6:19). Later, Jesus will also say that those who "seek" will find (11:9) and that we are to "seek" the kingdom of God, or the reign of God on earth (12:31).
Joseph and Mary eventually found Jesus "in the midst of the teachers" at the Temple. In popular understanding, this is sometimes portrayed as a situation where Jesus lectures the teachers. Yet, according to Luke, it is not strictly a one-way conversation. However precocious Jesus might have been, he is not portrayed as having all the answers. He is specifically said to have "listened" to the teachers, and was asking them questions.
In turn, "all the ones hearing him"--presumably bystanders as well as teachers--are "astonished" (existemi). The transitive use of existemi indicates that they were moved from one condition to another, i.e. their minds were changed at Jesus' "understanding" and "his decisions (apokrisis)." (Apokrisis is formed from krisis, which means "separation" or "crisis," to which is appended the prefix apo, which means "from." Literally, apokrisis is "from separation" or "from crisis"--hence, a "decision" or an "answer.")
At this point, after looking for him "for three days," Joseph and Mary finally find Jesus. "Seeing him," Joseph and Mary were, literally, "struck in mind"--ekplesso, struck intensively, astonished. "Child," Mary says, "Why have you done so to us? Behold, your father and I have been seeking you sorrowing." For the third time, Joseph and Mary are said to be "seeking," but this time "sorrowing." They were "seeking" him and anticipating the worst.
Mary's remark is a reproach. She identifies Jesus as a "child" for whom she and his "father" (Joseph) have been searching. Indeed, she prefaces her final reproach with "behold," which is an intensification, and specifically oriented toward the pain Jesus has caused his parents. In the context of a traditional middle-eastern family of the time, which valued loyalty and family solidarity above all else, Jesus has shown disrespect to the family by going off on his own. Mary puts him in his place.
But Jesus won't stay there. He responds, "Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in the things of my father?" These are the first words spoken by Jesus in Luke's gospel. As such, they carry special import.
Why were they seeking him? As his parents, they were, quite understandably, very worried. Luke tells us they were seeking him out of a sense of fear and loss. In other words, Joseph and Mary thought Jesus was the one who was lost! (Later, Luke will tell us that Jesus came "to seek and save the lost" (19:10) which is all of us and not him!)
The second sentence is difficult. It is usually translated as NRSV does: "Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The problem is that the word "house" does not actually appear in the Greek text. It is not entirely clear how the sentence should read. Literally, we have: "in the ____ of my Father it is necessary that I be." Something is missing in English which would be understood in Greek. Tannehill says the expression could refer to "house", but it could also refer to "things" or "business" or "interests" (p. 76).
One thing is clear, however. The word dei is used, which means "it is necessary." Luke uses the word in certain special cases. Jesus "must" proclaim the good news (4:43). He "must" undergo suffering (9:22). In this case, he "must" be about "his father," meaning God and not Joseph. This is what Joel Green calls "the primary issue" of the text:
Who is Jesus' father? To whom does he owe primary allegiance? Jesus' aligning himself first with God's aim comes to the fore especially through his use of the expression "it is necessary"--employed regularly throughout Luke-Acts as an indicator of salvation-historical necessity. (p. 156)
Mary and Joseph do not understand "the word" (rhema) Jesus said to them. Yet, it is clear that things are radically changed. At the beginning of the story, Joseph and Mary do the action. They go to Jerusalem. They "went up." They "were returning." It is only then that Jesus is even mentioned as having been present.
Yet, after the dialog between Mary and Jesus, it is suddenly Jesus who is the actor. "He went down with them" back to Nazareth. Something has changed on the basis of that dialog. Jesus has disconnected himself from his father Joseph and aligned himself with the purposes of his father God. From that position, he leads Joseph and Mary back to Galilee.
That point having been made, "he was subject to them." Jesus is again portrayed as being loyal to his family, but not until after having established that his true allegiance is to God which supercedes even the allegiance given to his family.
The story completes the early identification of Jesus in Luke's gospel. Gabriel had told Mary that her child would be "holy," and would be "Son of God" (1:35). He was identified as "holy" in 2:23. Now, in this episode, he is identified as God's Son.
51b-52: "And his mother kept all the words in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and maturity, and grace from God and humanity." The verse forms a "bookend" with verse 40: "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him." The summary verse 40 refers to the years between Jesus' birth and this episode. The summary verse 51 refers to the years between this episode and his public ministry. In each case, Jesus grew in "wisdom," and, in each case, the "grace" of God was upon him.
Finally, one notes that Joseph and Mary search for Jesus for "three days." When an early Christian heard the phrase "for three days," one of their first associations would have been to think "resurrection." Jesus had been raised from the dead after "three days." Virtually every first century Christian would have made this association automatically. This would indicate that the story should be understood and seen in light of the resurrection.
In the resurrection, the new family of God supercedes one's earthly family. In the resurrection, Jesus' conversation and dialog "in the midst" of the teachers in the Temple is a portrayal of life in the new world of God wherein the hallowed place of tradition--the Temple--is transformed into a place where Jesus is now in the center. From that position, he is in dialog with the tradition, yet with new and astonishing understanding, so much so that the teachers of the tradition look upon him with respect and astonishment.