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Tempted But Without Sin

In the Gospel Reading, when Mary finally finds her almost-adolescent son, she says to him,  "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."  It is not hard to recognize her lines to him as a rebuke. She has been looking for him for three days!

Thinking more highly of your mother than is warranted is a sinless mistake if anything is.

But here the story has to bump up against doctrine. Scripture tells us that Jesus was like us in every way, except that he had no sin (Heb. 4:15). Anyone in doubt about the moral seriousness with which Scripture takes honoring one’s parents should look again at the First Reading. How is the doctrine that Jesus is without sin compatible with this story in the Gospel about his mother’s having to search for him for three days?

The answer lies in the explanation Jesus gives his mother. He says to her, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

So, Jesus thought that his mother understood his relation to God and his need to be in God’s temple learning at this time. He was wrong, on this score, of course. But it’s a kind of wrongness that shows something sweet in him, isn’t it? He is attributing to his mother more knowledge, more understanding, than she has. 

He is therefore not dishonoring her when he takes off for three days without a word to her. On the contrary, he is in fact honoring her by thinking of her as if she had Christ’s own knowledge of his relation to his father.

It is true that I am showing a way in which Jesus in this story is guilty of no sin—but only by virtue of pointing out that he is guilty of a mistake. But the Scriptural line says that Jesus is like us in every respect except sin, and to err is human. Thinking more highly of your mother than is warranted is a sinless mistake if anything is.

Jesus is human enough to learn from his mistake, though. The story goes on to say that Jesus went home with his parents and was obedient to them. And so, the story finishes, Jesus advanced in wisdom as well as age.

And that is a good way to age, isn’t it?

Eleonore Stump

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go