We have only one story of Jesus as a child, Luke 2:41-52. Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover every year and probably took Jesus each time. In any case, when he was 12, they returned to Nazareth without him. Jesus stayed at the temple and questioned the teachers there.
Surely every parent can identify with the multitude of emotions Joseph and Mary must have felt as they searched for their son.
Men traveled separately from women and children in those days. A 12-year-old, one year from adulthood, could have plausibly traveled with either group. Only when they stopped for the night and families reunited did Joseph and Mary realize that no one had seen Jesus.
They had to return to Jerusalem to find him. When they did, they were upset. Mary scolded him.
The story ends saying, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. More than one preacher has commented that even Jesus as a child had to learn wisdom from his youthful carelessness. Why didn’t he stay with his parents?
But wait a minute. This is the incarnate Lord of the universe we’re talking about. It’s not just some nice story about Jesus’ childhood.
How church people leave Jesus behind
Mary and Joseph, like good church people, went on about their business simply assuming that Jesus was around somewhere. Isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to know where their children are? Why did they have to go back to Jerusalem looking for Jesus?
More to the point, isn’t it our responsibility as Christians to follow Jesus instead of assuming he’s with us?
Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us. We can’t wander away from his presence. Unfortunately, we can easily lose the experience of his presence. When we leave it behind, it can be a long time before we notice. It can take even longer to remember where we were and what we were doing the last time we noticed him. Then we have to go looking for Jesus.
The church and its individual members too often go through church activities and personal quiet time as a routine. When we’re finished, we do something else. Do we leave Jesus behind, intent on the next thing on the schedule? That might be the meaning of “all we, like sheep, have gone astray.”
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus performed many of his miracles when he was on his way to do something else. He frequently allowed the opportunity to minister to the needs around him to change his plans.
If Jesus pauses to go about his Father’s business and we keep plodding along out of force of habit, we will leave him behind. Maybe we will even be as upset as Joseph and Mary as they backtracked and added two days to their journey looking for Jesus.
When we find him again, do we then scold him?
The baby in the manger has grown up. Why are we so often astonished?