THE LOSS IN THE TEMPLE
“And His parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the Pasch. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast. And after they had fulfilled the days, when they returned, the Child Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and His parents knew it not. And thinking that He was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought Him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him.”
1. Of all the scenes in the life of our Lord one may say there is none more deliberately chosen, more obviously set for an example to many, than this; none which may be more easily understood as a kind of living parable; and yet none which rings with a clearer sense of truth and actuality, on the evidence of the chief sufferer in the scene, Our Blessed Lady. This is the one and only event in the whole of the life at Nazareth which she has chosen to leave on record; we need to remember this when we look for its interpretation. For there is a sense in which it tells against Our Lady’s own authority and place as Mother; therefore she adds her sanction to the limitations of a parent’s rights. A child is not a parent’s slave; authority does not mean despotism; the essence of good training is that, one day, the child should be his own master, with the power to choose and act for himself.
2. Therefore it was necessary that in this, too, our Lord should be one with His children, whom He loved so much, and defend them from the gentlest, the most subtle, but perhaps the most dangerous of tyrannies. At the age of twelve, so it was understood among the Jews, a boy was master of himself, capable of choosing his path in life, his vocation. For that eventful day his earlier education had prepared him; in the synagogue and school, in the workshop, but most at home and at his mother’s knee, the child was prepared for the day, when he must make his own decision. So was it, we are safe in conjecturing, with the Child Who, according to His Mother’s account, “waxed strong, full of wisdom, and the grace of God was in Him”; loving words, of a Mother full of love, for a Child that had grown up at her side, and had shown her a Child’s true love and duty.
3. But when the time for the great decision came, how violent did it seem! No warning was given; it was made, not in the Mother’s quiet home but in His Father’s House; the circumstances were such as to aggravate the Mother’s agony. The feast was over; they were returning home; after a day’s journey the Child was missed; what had become of Him? Had He been already discovered? Had those from whom they had fled to Egypt found Him and killed Him? Had they been wrong in bringing Him to Jerusalem where enemies were known to be living? Or had He chosen some new guardian? What had she done, or not done, to be so left alone? We can easily imagine this sword of sorrow that pierced her heart as she ran back to Jerusalem, as she wandered aimlessly next day seeking for Him Whom her soul loved, willing only what He willed, but craving still to be, if it might be, the “Handmaid of the Lord.” The day of separation had come; she had always known it would come; but how differently it had come from what she had expected! How often is it so!
Summary Meditation Points:
- The story is an obvious declaration of the rights of children, the Christian child’s Magna Carta.
- For this act of choice of vocation His early training had prepared Him.
- And for the sake of so many parents, in after time, His Mother’s heart was made to suffer.
Art: Jesus Among the Doctors, Heinrich Hofmann, 1884, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. Mirror of Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.