”And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40)
Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without Mary and Joseph knowing about it. In our own day our society would have mixed feelings and opinions on this. Many would think that such an occurrence provides legal grounds for the parents to be accused of child neglect. Others would advocate for a child who showed such independence and initiative, praise him or her in their chosen identity. Still others may assume that Jesus showed disrespect for his parents.
Any such conclusions are human assumptions that miss the mark entirely. They are inconsistent with the sinless nature and holiness of Jesus. He never did anything wrong. The fact that Mary and Joseph did not immediately know He was missing gives us some insight into Jesus’ character. We can assume that they knew Him to be very responsible, someone who could be trusted to always do the right thing, who had good judgment, common sense, a young man who could take care of himself. Otherwise his parents would never have waited a whole day to check on him.
Jesus had a good reason for staying behind without telling his folks. He did not do this out of boyish foolishness or disrespect. Rather than showing disrespect to Mary and Joseph, Jesus showed them and us as well that He knew who His real Father is. Jesus knew He was The Son of God. He knew He had a unique relationship with the Father. He also knew that He had a mission, a calling to fulfill. This mission meant obedience of the Father in all things. Such obedience would require devotion and dedication so great that it would take precedence over the closest family ties.
There is a lesson for us here about the cost of discipleship. If we say we are disciples of Jesus, then He has a claim on our lives. God’s claim on us conflicts with human desires including social acceptance, loyalty to family, economic prosperity, and other worthy ideals. The hardest decisions we have to make call for us to choose between options which both present worthy claims. We need to ask the Lord for wisdom as we choose even though, for if we are honest, most choices we face concern superficial and trivial matters centered on our own fleshly desires, things we often pursue with more zeal and energy than the things of God.
The example of Jesus at the temple teaches us that faith in God should not be a peripheral matter. It should affect every area of our lives in a profound and fundamental way. The Christian faith is not just a part of our life: it is our life. It is more than just a matter of fulfilling prescribed religious obligations. Jesus chose His calling and ministry over His earthly family. He subordinated all other priorities, though they were good, worthy and important, to God’s call and purpose on Him. We are called to do our Father’s work. This will mean we have to give up our agenda, our priorities. We are called to humble ourselves, to surrender our plans and goals to the Father to do His will and to accomplish the goals of the kingdom of God. And we can do so by faith in God who provides the wisdom and strength we need in abundance.