“When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it” (Lk 2:43)
“Boys will be boys.” Doing the disappearing act without letting parents know is one such way in which boys will always be boys. By staying back in Jerusalem without his parents knowing was one way in which the boy Jesus acted like the boy that He was.
This is the only incident in the gospels which tell us something about the youth of Jesus. Jesus was human, behaving just like any other 12-year-old.
The dimension of family life that comes through in our gospel reading today has to do with the spaces that need to be respected between different members of the family unit.
“When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it.”
Jesus had a particular mission to accomplish. He was only 12 years of age, but He was sufficiently mature to realise that He needed space; He needed that time apart from His parents to do what He had to do.
His parents were obviously very worried at His unexplained disappearance. They had been searching for Him for three days without success. There will come a time when His closest disciples and friends will also be searching for Him for three days without success, i.e., after His death until His Resurrection three days later.
This search for Jesus by His parents at the beginning of the gospel is a prelude to the search for Jesus by the women and the disciples after His Death and Resurrection.
There comes a time in the lives of each of our families that we have to let go. “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” Joseph and Mary had to learn how to let go. They had to allow their Son, Jesus, to do what He was called to do.
In any healthy relationship, there will be spaces. Being together is good and nurtures love and friendship in homes. Doing things together nurtures good family living.
But we must not be so tightly knit that we do not allow the individuals in the home to develop to their own potential.
Khalil Gibran once said, “The pillars in the Temple stand apart, but they hold up the Temple.” We need the spaces in our togetherness. The parents of Jesus had to give Him the space that He needed to accomplish His Father’s will.
We must not be so much under the other person’s skin that he or she cannot breathe the life that God wants him or her to breathe. If the pillars of the Temple come too close to each other, the entire Temple collapses.
“Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
Heavenly Father, I trust in You. After Mary found her missing Son Jesus, she ‘stored up all these things in her heart’.
When someone whom I love suddenly disappears without my knowledge, help me to respect the spaces that must exist in our togetherness.
Help me not to become so attached to the other. Rather, help me to do like Mary and ‘store up all these things in my heart.’ Amen.
The gospel reflections for December were by Abbot John Pereira OSB of the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict.