Long before the Home Alone movies. And long before David Cameron left his child in the pub – we’ve all done it! – there was the story of The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-end). All parents know how difficult it can be to keep tabs on a child. One possible explanation for the apparent negligence of Mary & Joseph may be to do with the fact that, as a 12-year-old boy, on the threshold of adult life, there may been a mix-up over whether he was traveling with the women and children, or with the men. They would have travelled in groups of relatives, so it’s not difficult to imagine the potential confusion.
This is the only biblical story of Jesus’s childhood, after the nativity stories and Luke’s account of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:21-40) and it contains the first words of Jesus to be recorded. Jesus’s parents were, of course, devout Jews, and went to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. (Jewish men were required to attend three festivals a year: Pentecost, Tabernacles and Passover. In practice, “only Passover was strictly observed” (I Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke) and here, there were clearly women attending too.) Pilgrims were required to stay in Jerusalem for two days during the week of the festival. The boy Jesus apparently thinks that two days is just not enough, so he stays behind. They’ve travelled homeward for a whole day before they realise he’s missing.
Of course, when they eventually find him (‘after three days’), he’s perfectly happy sitting with the religious teachers, listening and asking questions.
And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (2:47)
His parents, on the other hand, are not so happy. They’ve been wracked with anxiety and they let him know that this is no way to treat your parents. Mind you, Mary had previously been warned that it was not going to be easy being this child’s mother…
Jesus’s first recorded words are:
‘Why were you searching for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (2:49)
The King James bible translates this as, “about my Father’s business”. The point is that we see the contrast between Jesus as part of his earthly family and Jesus the Son of his divine Father. Jesus’s relationship with his earthly family was often in tension with his divine personhood and his demands on his disciples to put their divine relationship first was a tough one.
The promise of the nativity story is revealed here: Jesus is the Son of God. This is a moment of epiphany, a revelation. Jesus’s true identity is laid bare. And then he goes back to being a jolly well-behaved boy, obedient to his parents. The next time we meet him, it will be at baptism at the hands of John, where Jesus will be affirmed as God’s Son, the beloved, pleasing to God his Father.
Jesus’s role is unique, but in a way, this is our story too. Our first loyalty is to our Father in heaven. That’s who we are, children of God. Jesus’s relationship is unique but he invites us to become God’s children too. Mostly we live that out as parents and children, brothers and sisters, as friends and so on – our earthly relationships where we are called to love one another. But we too have a heavenly Father and we are called, not just to be in his house, but about his business.