Every year his parents used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When the days of the feast were over and they set off home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was somewhere in the party, and it was only after a day's journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere. It happened that, three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, 'My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.' He replied, '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 meant. He went down with them then and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people. (Luke 2:41-52)
Twelve years old is an important age which Jewish boys looked forward to. That was the age that every Jewish boy was expected to make his bar mitzvah and so become a responsible subject of the law. It was a ceremony of legal adulthood. From then on he was required to keep the law and make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem like any other Jewish man.
One way teenagers celebrate their coming of age is to go out and do those things that the law had up till now forbidden them to do. You know your boy is growing up when he stops asking where he came from and begins to not tell you where he is going. As we can see, Jesus was no exception. To celebrate his coming of age he attends the Temple class without informing his parents. When his parents catch up with him after two days of searching for him everywhere, all he tells them is, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Even holy families do have their occasional tensions and misunderstandings.
The most puzzling part of the story, however, is the way it ends: “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (v.51). The twelve-year old adult Jesus already knows that his mission is to be in his Father’s house and be about his Father’s business. From the test-run he did in Jerusalem earlier that day, it was clear that he was already capable of doing it very well, because “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (v. 47).
The puzzle then is this: If Jesus, already at the age of twelve, was ready to begin his public mission, and was evidently well prepared for it, why would he go down with his parents and spend the next eighteen years in the obscurity of a carpenter’s shed only to begin his public ministry at the age of thirty? Were those eighteen years wasted years? Certainly not! In a way that is hard for us to understand, Jesus’ hidden life in Nazareth was as much a part of his earthly mission as his public life. We are reminded that it was at this time that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour” (v.52). And when we reflect on the fact that for every one year of his public life Jesus spent ten years in family life, then we shall begin to understand the importance and priority he gave to family life.
We have two lives, a private or family life and a public or professional one. These two lives should be in harmony but very often they are in tension. Whereas Jesus resolved the tension by giving priority to his private life, we, unfortunately, often try to resolve it by giving priority to our professional life, leaving our family life to suffer. The holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus reminds and challenges us to value and invest in our private life with our families before our professional life at the work place.
As Pope John Paul II puts it beautifully in Familiaris Consortio, “The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives. Its first task is to live with fidelity the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons. The inner principle of that task, its permanent power and its final goal is love.” Therefore, shouldn’t we be showing love in our families by spending more time with them? Are we really making effort to do so? Do we value our families more, or has our work, career or ambitions taken precedence?
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