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Jesus’s Childhood Excursion

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at this understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn’t know you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and he was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

— Luke 3:41-52


As a parent, I struggle a little with the context of this story. After all, Jesus may be the Son of God, but he still had human parents.

I heard a sermon once discussing this particular story. I think it was at church during my Seattle years. Anyways, the pastor explained how Jesus’s parents were traveling with a caravan of relatives. It was a massive group of people. This was to explain how his parents might not have noticed his absence because they were surrounded by family members. Even considering the culture of the time, it’s hard for me to fathom no one realizing that Jesus wasn’t in the group. Let’s say Jesus was spending time with a grandparent or an uncle. Wouldn’t that be known beforehand? Call me overprotective if you will, but I simply can’t imagine not knowing where my children are. If we were to travel in a massive caravan of relatives, I would know whether my children are having some grandparent time and with which grandparent, whether they were playing with their cousins, and simply who has eyes on them. If they were with different relatives, I would know that, too. I would also regularly check on them, just to make sure they were behaving themselves and everyone had what they needed. With plenty of evidence in the New Testament to support this assertion, I think it’s safe to say that long-distance travel wasn’t always safe during Jesus’s day. The parable of the Good Samaritan is evidence of why such a large group would travel together. There’s safety in numbers, all the more reason to know where your children are.

I’ve also heard over the years that Jesus was not being defiant or disrespectful by staying back without permission because Jesus was staying at His heavenly Father’s house. In this situation, I can’t help but imagine God and Mary’s relationship in this situation akin to that of a divorced co-parenting couple. Using this metaphor, Mary clearly has full custody and God gets visitation rights from time to time. Even if God were to invite Jesus to stay in His house, wouldn’t Jesus still be duty-bound to seek permission or at least consent from Mary? By not letting his earthly parents know and allowing them undue stress from not knowing where He went, wouldn’t that be a form of dishonoring His earthly parents?

These questions and thoughts after reading a passage become the subject of conversation within our family. Our December tradition includes reading a chapter from the Book of Luke and then, Andy and I model discussion. We’ll talk about lessons we see or discuss modern-day take-aways. We’ll have questions for each other about what we just heard. The children don’t participate, at least not yet.

With this particular passage, it hits me a little in the mom-gut. I have these questions, and that’s okay. What I want my children to learn is how to have discussions, not just Biblical conversations but deeper conversations about anything they’ve read. One day, there will be passages in the Bible that they don’t quite comprehend. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover, again and again, and there are still plenty of sections that I struggle with, but that does not dampen my faith. It’s the complexity of dialogue, the fact that life itself does not always make sense and neither does everything in the Bible, even if it is inspired by the will of God. This skill (discussion) can apply to literature, to current events, to analyzing questions of faith, and to learn constructive ways to go beyond a text and make connections to the world at large.

I also want to build a safe environment where my children can turn to me, say “I don’t understand why...” and I can say back, “I don’t understand either, but this is what I think... What do you think?” I believe these conversations deepen faith, at least it does for me.


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