I love this story, that’s because it’s a very human story. If you are a parent, then you have, at some point, lost a child at the grocery maybe—or in a parking lot. Maybe even at a church. You can identify.
My own lost-child story happened many moons ago, when my girls were small—two, four and six. It was Fall. I had bought each of the girls a little rake, and with those they were helping me rake leaves. We had a big oak tree out front of our house. Leaf raking was fun! We were raking the leaves into a big pile at the street-curb. The town had these big leaf-sucker trucks—that’s their technical name. Leaf-sucker trucks. Those trucks would suck up what we raked up.
I promised the girls that after we had a decent leaf pile, I would swing them around and then throw them in. That is what we were up to on that glorious fall day. We were busy, raking and giggling, and having fun.
But things were about to go seriously south. It must have been around five in the afternoon. It was time to put the dinner casserole in the oven. I put down my rake and yelled to my oldest daughter Emily, who I am sad to report, too often served as Mommy’s little helper—I yelled, “Emily, watch Paige for a minute, I’m going into the house to start dinner.” It was a short distance from front door to kitchen. I had just stepped into that kitchen, with Emily following behind. “Mom, Paige is running down the sidewalk toward the end of the street.”
Back outside I looked down the street where Emily was pointing. That’s where the sidewalk ended at a street intersection. No Paige. No Paige anywhere. I hadn’t been gone long enough for her to just disappear like that. It made no sense. How could she just be gone?
So I do what you do. I start screaming, “Paige!” as I run down the sidewalk toward the end of the street. Once I arrive I look in both directions. Still no Paige. I run back up toward our house. What to do? By this time, a couple of neighbors have heard my frantic calls. They come out of their houses to help me look, but look where?
I waste no time. I phone the police. “Description please?” “Oh, my goodness! A description?” In my mind I can see Paige’s body flat out on the street, hit by a car—she’s still dressed in her navy blue jumper with the little yellow bumble bee appliqué sewn onto the bottom skirt part. Red tights. Red Turtle neck sweater. Blue tennis shoes. Oh heavens, no!”
My mind is a jumble, but then a smidge of sanity kicks in. Paige is obsessed with a little girl—eight-year-old Katherine, who lives in a house toward that intersection. Had Paige run to Katherine’s house? With the police on their way, neighbors standing around in their yards, and a kindly soul watching after the other two girls, I run down the sidewalk again, this time stopping at Katherine’s house. Katherine’s mom’s car is not in the driveway, but I ring the doorbell anyway. No answer.
Just as I am turning to leave, Katherine’s mom, Karen, does indeed drive up. She is back from wherever it is she had been. I explain what’s up. “I thought maybe she had come to see Katherine?” Karen unlocks the front door. We step inside. “Maybe Paige has wandered into your backyard?” I suggest hopefully. As we walk through the house toward the backdoor and the backyard, get this--Paige peeks out from behind Karen’s living room drapes and shouts, “Boo.” Like this had all been a fun game of hide and seek.
Happy day! Of course, I swoop Paige up in a firm embrace and probably cried, although I don’t remember if there were tears.
Best I have been able to figure, when I went into the house to tend to the casserole, Paige saw her opportunity. She ran down the sidewalk toward her beloved Katherine’s FENCED-IN backyard. She opened the gate, which for the sake of argument we will assume was slightly ajar. Finding no Katherine there, she let herself into the house via the backdoor. Karen had left the backdoor closed but unlocked. Paige must have stretched on tippy toe, turned that back door’s doorknob, and let herself in.
Karen, Paige and I return to the sidewalk where we are greeted by Emily, Joy a few neighbors and a kindly police officer. I explain to the officer that the toddler in my arms is indeed, the lost child. And, that’s the end of my own personal lost child saga.
All to say, like many of you I am sure, I identify with Mary in today’s story. Ok. I know Jesus was twelve, not two, but I don’t care what age a son or daughter is, he or she is still your child. Jesus was alone in Jerusalem, which I imagine, was NOT a so very holy city. I mean it may have been the seat of the temple, but I suspect it had its share of low lives—thieves, prostitutes, murderers even—people hoping to take advantage of unsuspecting, naïve, festival goers.
Sadly, scripture doesn’t give us a whole lot to go on regarding the boy Jesus. I imagine him as smart beyond his years—maybe even a child prodigy. But Jesus doesn’t have street smarts. He has spent his growing up years in Nazareth, after all, a small, backwater village— That fact would have added to his parents’ worries.
His parents. How could they have lost their son, for heaven’s sake? We can imagine, can’t we? They were traveling with extended family members. In all the commotion of packing up, and grabbing a quick bite to eat before heading out of Jerusalem, they had skipped the head count. You know the head count. “Ok, do we have everyone? José, Miriam, Joshua, Nathan, Judith, Jesus?” They hadn’t done that.
Their mistake. It wasn’t all on them, though. Jesus was partly to blame, don’t you think? In the commotion of that morning, Jesus had seen an opportunity—an opportunity to talk with the learned men at temple. “I’ll just slip out--won’t be gone long. Be back before we leave for home.” But then, of course, the time got away from him.
He’s sitting with the elders, asking questions, debating—at some point, he looks past them to the door of the temple. Jesus sees that it is dusk. “Already? How could that be? Better to stay put than to try to catch up with my family on the road.”
Actually that probably WAS a wise move. No telling who or what he would have encountered out beyond Jerusalem’s gates—Jesus, a lone traveler.
Where did Jesus stay for three days? I’m thinking a kindly priest, maybe awed by Jesus’ love of scripture, his sense of purpose, and of course, that special something that set him apart already as a spokesperson for God. Yes, a kindly priest offered his home to Jesus for sleeping and eating. Days he spent at the temple learning the finer points of scripture. It must have been glorious, for him.
Like my trauma of losing Paige, it also ended well for Jesus’ parents. When they discover that Jesus is missing, they return to Jerusalem, as Jesus expected them to. They enter the temple. They see their son sitting among the bearded elders—AS IF HE BELONGS THERE. They are too overcome with relief to be shocked by the incongruity of that image--their young son in deep conversation with men three, four times his age.
Mary says what we would expect her to say, when she is finally face-to-face with her son-- something to the effect, “Jesus, how could you do this to your father and me????! We were worried sick!”
Tell me, wouldn’t that be exactly what YOU would say? Maybe Mary wagged a finger, too. I would have wagged a finger at Paige, if she had been old enough to understand such a thing. As I said, this is a very human story. That’s why I love it. How true to motherhood, to parenthood.
But now we come to the sticky part to this story. After Mary scolds Jesus, Jesus scolds her right back. Scolds. That’s one way of putting it. Some of the commentators I read this week, use the word reproach—Jesus reproaches his mother. Really? Did she deserve reproaching?
I mean, forget for a moment that the boy is Jesus. Imagine you are a mother, having just been through what Mary has gone through. Your adolescent son is standing before you. You say, “We were worried sick about you!” Your adolescent son just might roll his eyes, and think if not actually say, “Gee Mom, just chill. I’m fine. And by the way, the Temple is where you and Dad should have looked for me first.” Slightly, maybe even very rude, but typical, right?
But of course, we are not talking about any adolescent, we are talking about Jesus.
It is true though that Jesus is both human and God. Human adolescent boys, do roll their eyes. Human adolescent boys do say words like “chill.” It all boils down to how you conceive of Jesus—is he more God than human, or more human than God. Tough to wrap our minds around Jesus as both human and God. My thinking though, is that this very human story reveals the very human side of Jesus’ nature, just as it does the very human side of Mary’s nature. So Jesus reproaches his mother, maybe even rolling his eyes, and asking her to “Chill.” Adolescents!
But we are not done with our scripture passage yet. I want to return to Mary, one more time, since this is after all, Mother’s Day.
It sounds trite, but it’s true. There are moments when parents are confronted with the fact of their child’s impending independence—their adulthood. Those moments are happy and sad both. “Gee, I really like what I am learning in computers, in math; and I’m good at it. One day I’m going to be a computer technician, a mathematician. Or. “I really enjoy cooking, and you know what? People like what I cook! I think I’ll be a chef, or a dietician. Mom, I really, really like this guy I’m dating. Can’t wait for you to meet him.” That’s you, Paul.
So, Mary and Joseph enter the temple. They see their son, THEIR TWELVE YEAR OLD son, seated among the elders like he belongs there. Mary scolds Jesus for staying behind in Jerusalem, but she is not just angry with him. Her feelings are more complicated than that. She feels relief that her son is safe, yes; she feels pride that Jesus seems to be holding his own among the temple elders in Jerusalem—“Yes; that’s my boy! “ But I suspect she also feels sad. Jesus has managed just fine all by himself, in a metropolis, away from family and away from HER. He has discovered his calling. Yes, Mary feels a tinge of sadness, bordering on, dare I say it, grief.
Mary treasured all those complicated, competing feelings –in her heart. As all parents do. Yes, this IS a very human story. Amen