Gospel Lectio Divina, Holy Family of Jesus - December 26, 2021
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking 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.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man.
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem
Sometimes I feel like I need to move on from my religion and experience the wider world, just as the caravan moved on from Jerusalem. But Jesus stayed behind. In a way, he was calling Mary and Joseph back to Jerusalem. At this time of my life I see Jesus in the holy city, calling me back. After years of searching, finally I think to return to where I started. In the midst of the crowds around me I ask, like Jesus’ parents, “Where are you?”, but while I left behind the religion of my youth Jesus stayed behind and waited for my return.
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him
So I return to the places I’d found him in the past: the Rosary, the Adoration chapel. His answer when I find him was one I could have expected: “Did you not know this is where I had to be.”
all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.
It took years, if not decades, to learn the Scriptures as well as the teachers of Jerusalem. Jesus understood them at the age of twelve. Perhaps we overlook this part of the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. I know that I have meditated deeply upon the fact that Jesus was compelled to spend days in the Temple. I have meditated on the anxiety of Mary and Joseph and what it might have been like for them to lose track of their only child. But Jesus’ thorough knowledge of Scripture at such a young age, this part of the story I often only give a passing thought. Perhaps it’s because I claim to know Jesus enough at this point to expect as much from him. I go into the story knowing he is prodigious and wise beyond his years, for I already know he is the Son of God. But the teachers of Jerusalem did not know this. For them, perhaps this was the first piece in the puzzle. Perhaps this was the beginning of them pondering the possibility that this is the Messiah among them.
“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
I looked for him in books and movies, thinking if I could just find a strand of truth that speaks to me, maybe I could find a genuine trace of him. I looked for him in strangers I met in stores and bars. Trudging along my own path, I believed I could find my own way to Jesus. When I go back to his way, he simply says, “Did you not know where to find me?” I could hear the same tone in his voice that he must have used when speaking to Mary, his mother, and his disciples. It’s not a tone of cynicism, condescension, or disappointment. There is love in his voice, and just a bit of sadness. He knew that I knew where to find him, but I chose pride instead. I chose my own understanding over what he had taught me. No, he did more than just teach me. He showed me which way to go to find him, and I still thought I knew better. Even after twelve years of living with him, Mary and Joseph still did not see that God was Jesus’ father. Even after being in my life even longer than that, I am still often confused about who Jesus really is and where to find him. His response to my confusion is very simple. He is not trying to complicate his answers to my questions. I’m the one complicating things. He is the way to the Father, so of course he would be found in his Father’s house.
But they did not understand what he said to them.
God’s truth is often right in front of us. Yet still, I admit I am oblivious to it quite frequently. It’s not that it’s too complicated though. It’s usually because I lean too much on my own understanding, and as a result my own flawed conclusions cause me to disqualify God’s obvious answers. The answers he gives could be right in front of me, and I’ll say, “No, that can’t be right, because I already know ______”, fill in the blank. But what if what I think I know simply isn’t true. Mary and Joseph were also leaning too much on their own understanding, and as a result they did not understand what Jesus was saying.
He … was obedient to them
It’s interesting how Luke says Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary shortly after writing that they didn’t understand him. Despite the fact that they had trouble understanding who Jesus really was, despite the fact that Jesus actually did know more than them, he was still obedient to his parents. I think back to when I was twelve, or even as a teenager, how I thought I knew more than my parents and how I thought that gave me the right to disobey them in certain circumstances. They said to not ride my bike to a certain part of town, but they didn’t understand–like I did–that I had been there before and discovered it’s not as bad as they thought. They said not to go to that party, but they didn’t understand that there would be no alcohol. They said don’t drive in that storm, but they didn’t understand that I was a better driver than they thought. Whether or not they wound up being right is besides the point. The point of obedience is to conform to the higher order of life, the order created by God. God commands us to obey our parents not because they are always right, but because–in this fallen world–it is all the more important to keep things structured amid the chaos. The structure of Luke’s storytelling highlights this. Even though he knew he was above them in many ways, as he demonstrated in the Temple, Jesus still respected the earthly order of families built by his heavenly Father.
his mother kept all these things in her heart
The love of a mother can only be understood by mothers. There is so much to meditate on in this passage about finding Jesus in the Temple. For example, how much did Mary know? Did she know how Jesus would suffer and die? Here it seems like she wasn’t even yet fully aware that he was indeed the Son of God. If she knew, why was she so confused? Yet, surely she remembered the Annunciation of Gabriel, and the words spoken to her by Elizabeth at the Visitation. We can fathom how, in the twelve years since, those events had faded to the back of her memory and were becoming like a dream. Then, she finds Jesus in the Temple and it all comes rushing back to her. Twelve years raising the child Jesus, changing his diapers, teaching him to walk and talk, watching him fall and cry, all of it may have made Mary focus more on Jesus’ humanity and less on his divinity. To hear that she kept these events in Jerusalem in her heart opens up a whole new chapter. This bridge between the nativity narrative and Jesus’ ministry is therefore vital. We walk with Mary as she learns who Jesus is. In many ways, her relationship with him is like ours, because–like her–we Christians go into the Gospel story knowing at least a little bit about who Jesus is. Yet still, we have to go on our own journey like Mary did. We know the stories, but we still need to internalize them and keep all these things in our hearts.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
What magnanimity Jesus shows in giving us one line to cover the next eighteen years. We have to remember, Scripture is the Word of God, and the Word of God is Jesus. Christ gave Luke these words, these thirteen words, as the narration of–what many may argue–the most important years of one’s life. These are his teen and young adult years. If it were the lives of any of us, in those eighteen years we might have graduated from grammar school, high school, and college. We may have gotten our first job, our first apartment, fallen in love, gotten married, not to mention all the friendships we may have made and developed over those years. But in the life of Jesus, we get these thirteen words. If we are to imitate Christ, the message here is that all of those experiences in the formative years of our life ought to be oriented toward one thing: doing the will of God, finding out his mission for us and advancing in wisdom, age, and favor before God and man so as to better accomplish that mission. Many of us look back at our youth and say, “Those were the days. If only things could be like they were back then.” I know I say that often. But that is foolish. It was all preparation for now, and today I ought to find what it is God needs me to do.
Thank you for the illuminating truth you share with me through the stories in Scripture. I can spend a lifetime meditating on them, and find new things every time. Every year I hear the stories, and every year you meet me there within them in a new way. It’s no wonder Jesus went to the Temple. A relationship with you is the font of all goodness, beauty, and truth. Tell me what I need to do so I can have direction and purpose on the path of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
If contemplation is about listening to God, then this passage about finding Jesus in the Temple has a great deal to tell us in that regard. Do I lean too much on my own understanding, causing Jesus to sadly ask, “Did you not know where to find me?” He has been in his Father’s house all along. We can still search for truth vigorously once we find God, but we will drown in the sea of doubt if we don’t search on the Barque, the Church that Jesus gave us. If you want to find the truth, heed the words Jesus says to Mary, “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s House?” and search for him in his Church. If you have found the truth, rejoice, but also know that the journey is not over.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.