The final Joyful Mystery is the finding of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. I’ve written about this story pretty recently, for St. Joseph‘s Feast Day, and it’s one of my favorite stories to think about and play with. The NRSV story is below, and you can find other English translations here.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.
When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.
Assuming 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.When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
When 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.”
He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.
Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
What is shining out for me in this morning’s reading of the story, is Mary’s rebuke of Jesus: Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety. Can you imagine being in Jesus’ shoes? Most of probably were, at one point or another in our childhood or youth, whether it was intentional or not. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you can understand how Mary and Joseph must have been feeling — that terrible, awful feeling that the very worst has happened to your precious child. If you’re imagining that feeling, now add to it the extra piece: you haven’t just lost your own child; this is God’s son who is missing!
The NRSV (among others) uses anxious to describe how Mary and Joseph feel. The Message has Mary say that they’ve been half out of our minds looking for you. The word that sang for me, though, I spotted in Young’s Literal Translation and in the KJV. In the YLT, Mary says, Child, why didst thou thus to us? lo, thy father and I, sorrowing, were seeking thee. Fear and anxiety are one thing, but after three days, Mary has moved to sorrow. Is she now expecting to find only an empty body now? What must her prayers sound like after three days, pleading, begging, frantic?
Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse makes some interesting points about Mary’s sorrow.
His mother told him how ill they took it: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Why didst thou put us into such a fright?’’
They were ready to say, as Jacob of Joseph, “A wild beast has devoured him; or, He is fallen into the hands of some more cruel enemy, who has at length found out that he was the young child whose life Herod had sought some years ago.’’
A thousand imaginations, we may suppose, they had concerning him, each more frightful than another.
“Now, why hast thou given us occasion for these fears? Thy father and I have sought thee, sorrowing; not only troubled that we lost thee, but vexed at ourselves that we did not take more care of thee, to bring thee along with us.’’
Note, Those may have leave to complain of their losses that think they have lost Christ. But their weeping did not hinder sowing; they did not sorrow and sit down in despair, but sorrowed and sought.
Note, If we would find Christ, we must seek him sorrowing, sorrowing that we have lost him, that we have provoked him to withdraw, and that we have sought him no sooner.
They that thus seek him in sorrow shall find him, at length, with so much the greater joy.
I’m not sure whether we must be sorrowing to seek out Jesus, but it sure does seem like that’s our nature. When we’re cruising through life, and everything is going well, we tend not to pay much attention to our need for God; in fact, we’re likely to credit ourselves with our successes and abundance, rather than giving thanks to God for the gifts that enable us to achieve these things. It’s when the days become dark, when life is frustrating, when we are in trouble or anxiety or sorrow that we’re much more likely to reach out for Jesus.
I did notice, in this commentary as in others, that part of the anxiety and sorrow and half-out-of-our-mind-ness Mary is expressing is a confession of her own fault. I should have paid closer attention; I should have noticed; I should have found you right away. If we are honest with ourselves, then after we’ve spent a day (a month, a year, a decade) walking away from Jesus, we have to admit that we did this; this was a choice I made, to deliberately walk away from Jesus without checking to make sure I was heading in the right direction. Part of the anxiety and sorrow is my distress at my own poor choice.
It strikes me as too bad that this is 12-year-old Jesus, rather than 31-year-old Jesus. His response to Mary and Joseph feels less than gracious, less than generous. This doesn’t sound like the Jesus who tells us that all things will be forgiven us. It sounds more like a mouthy teenager: What’s your problem, Mom? Didn’t you know where I’d be? How clueless can you be? Of course, somehow, it’s always easier for us to forgive a complete stranger than it is to forgive someone we live or work closely with.
As I reflect on this story, here during Holy Week, I think about the sorrow Jesus undergoes. Tonight, we will honor the Last Supper, where Jesus is surrounded by his closest friends; a few hours after that, Jesus will be arrested, and all of those friends will scatter. He will face his fate alone, in sorrow for the entire world.
I invite you to spend a little time with Jesus today and tomorrow morning. Things may be going well in your life (or they may not!), but now the human Jesus is the one in anxiety, the one sorrowing. Perhaps now is the time when Jesus needs us.