Click here for the reading: Luke 2:41-52.
The hearers whose children are given cell phones in elementary school to keep track of them may be confused by the inattention of Joseph and Mary. Some exposition of the normalcy of very large groups of Israelites going up by villages to Jerusalem and the enormous numbers of people in the city at Passover will be helpful to clear up what appears negligent to many. Joseph and Mary were normal parents, and in a time and place far less violent for the average person than our own time, they were not concerned if Jesus were not, so to speak, home precisely before dark. What is abnormal in the reading is not the behavior of Joseph or Mary but of Jesus.
Jesus displays an unusual knowledge of the Law that astonishes those professionally engaged in teaching it. This surpassing knowledge contrasts brightly with Mary’s slip of the tongue, calling Joseph Jesus’s “father.” She is presumably not completely forgetful of Jesus’s conception but instead speaks according to custom and everyday usage. The yawning gap between what is scriptural and what is normal will only increase from here in the ministry and the passion of Jesus. He will pursue a unique way of utter attachment to the Law of God and to the will of God, and for that he will be named a blasphemer and a troubler of Israel.
Jesus is a priest Whose lips guard knowledge and a reformer in Israel, teaching again the Law of God clearly within His house at Jerusalem. The association between the priesthood and teaching is sometimes forgotten because of the nearer association in most Christians’ minds between the priesthood and the sacrificial system. But the lips of the priest should guard knowledge, and in teaching clearly what God demands and what God gives, Jesus is exercising an office at once prophetic and priestly and according to the tradition of Hezekiah and Josiah also royal.
The evangelist attends to Jesus’s activities whether in Jerusalem or on the way home. Jerusalem now no longer has significance apart from Jesus’s presence. Mary’s confusion is that Jesus’s presence would be where she expected him to be. False significance and deep confusion will always exist where a person does not treasure up in his heart the words and works of Jesus above all else. If he should not grasp them at first, as Mary did not at first grasp what Jesus meant by “I must be about the things of my Father [ESV: in my Father’s house],” they did not then reject what He said. Instead, she pondered His words until the time when they would come clear.
That process of hearing, pondering, and finally understanding is one that many will go through in Luke’s gospel, most emblematically the Emmaus disciples whose minds are opened by the Lord to understand at long last the Scriptures He grasped so easily as a boy. The human growth Jesus went through as a youth is also ours, so that in knowing more than us (of course), He does not separate Himself altogether from our human pattern of growth in wisdom. He knows what we lack and yet allows us to ponder His words. He opens our minds, and at long last we understand what He, our priest and prophet and king, has always taught and still teaches – wonders out of His Law.
The people of God find in each sermon, each reading, each service what Joseph and Mary were seeking – the presence and the voice of the living Lord. Encourage them not to follow their vain imaginings of what God should be doing or saying. Attend rather to the Wisdom of God speaking today in His Word.