Mary had lost Jesus. She couldn’t find him anywhere. Jesus had gone missing. He wasn’t among the friends and relatives who had traveled to Jerusalem for Passover and who were now returning home to Nazareth. Jesus had always been reliable and trustworthy, but now he was inexplicably absent. Concern gave way to panic as Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem to search for their missing twelve-year-old son.
For three days Mary and Joseph frantically searched Jerusalem. It must have been agony. On the third day they found Jesus in the Temple, sitting with the rabbis immersed in theological conversation. Mary’s anxiety turned to relief and then to irritation. “Why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
Our sympathies are naturally with Mary. After all, twelve-year-old boys aren’t supposed to disappear for three days without telling anyone. But this isn’t just any adolescent — this is the divine Word in boyhood. Jesus is unapologetic. He doesn’t offer an excuse. What he does say are the first recorded words of Christ:
“Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus meant by this. It wouldn’t be the last time people failed to understand Jesus.