“And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’”
What Jesus did by staying behind in the Temple may seem to be quite irresponsible for it seems to show an apparent disrespect for his parents. But we know that is an incorrect assumption for it would be entirely inconsistent with His sinless nature. Mary and Joseph had assumed that Jesus was with their group of fellow travelers from Nazareth, so they went a whole day without feeling the need to check on him. This shows how much they trusted Jesus who could be trusted to always do the right thing and exercise good judgment.
Jesus was not irresponsible: he had a good reason for staying behind. Luke tells us that this incident occurred when Jesus was 12. In Jewish tradition, the 12th year is the final year of theological training for a boy before he enters full participation in the religious life of the community and becomes a man. Up until that time his parents, especially his father, teach him the law. At the end of the 12th year the boy formally becomes a bar mitzvah or “son of the commandment.” When Jesus chose to stay behind in the temple, He was demonstrating His intense devotion to the Law as he began that year of preparation. He wanted to show the leaders of the Jews and His parents that He was not like any other boy, to demonstrate that His relationship to God was the essence of His being.
There is a lesson for us here about the cost of discipleship. If we are disciples of Jesus, then He has a claim on our life one which conflicts with human desires not only our own but those of others especially our families. Such desires include social acceptance, loyalty to family, economic prosperity and other worthy ideals. The hardest decisions we have to make call for us to choose between such options. However, if we are honest, most choices concern superficial and trivial things that center on our own fleshly desires, things we pursue with more zeal and energy than the things of God.
The example of Jesus teaches us that faith in God should affect every area of our lives in a profound and fundamental way. The Christian faith is not just a part of our life, not just a matter of appealing to God when we get into trouble or need something. It is more than just a matter of fulfilling prescribed religious obligations. Like Jesus, we are called to do our Father’s work, to subordinate all other priorities to God’s call and purpose. This will mean we have to give up our agenda, surrender our plans and goals to the Father to do His will and to accomplish the goals of the kingdom of God.