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And There He Sat

At the time of Sunday's Gospel, Jesus is twelve years old.

His family had gone up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, which, with the constituent celebrations, lasted eight days.

There was a great procession to Jerusalem, with many villages represented. They all watched out for each other’s children.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, traveling along with the others, surely must have enjoyed the big holy days—the reading of the Haggadah, and especially the Seder and its special foods, songs, and customs. These were the focal point of the Passover celebration. As expected, Jesus, obedient, stayed with his parents. Savory sights and pungent odors were natural to them, even mixed with human and animal fragrances. And with the dust of Jerusalem, which was ancient even then.

Every family’s duty is to send their children out from home when they have become adults.
Finally it was concluded, and those who had arrived now must depart. Imagine reassembling the convoy and putting everything in order. But it was like a huge family, so you knew your child would be with friends or relatives when he was not by your side.

Road dust, camel sniffables, etc., now dominated. But it was a happy time. Friends retold the stories, remembering the earliest acts of God on behalf of his people.

The sun began to sink and discrete families came together for sleep. Mary surely said, “Joseph, I think we should look for Jesus. He is probably talking with his friends as usual.”

Little did she know.

But no relative or friend had seen him anywhere. He was last sighted the day before.

In Jerusalem.

Mary’s heart must have broke in two. What mother on earth cannot imagine it? Missing child. My child. Gone.

Mary and Joseph left the caravan, went back, and scoured the cramped city. Day One, looking everywhere, no sign of him. They sleep an hour or so. Day Two, searching every place, asking everyone, following every trail. He was simply not there. Images of accidents, kidnapping, slavery, and so many more hovered just beneath their consciousness.

Day Three. They returned to the temple, this time finally daring in their panic to enter directly into the utterly private rooms where teachers and Rabbis debated major and minor points of scripture. No regular people were allowed there, especially poor travelers.

But there he sat. Perfectly at home for these three eternal days, the twelve year old, questioning teachers and answering them.

  “Son, how could you? How could you?”

His answer was odd and we are told that Mary pondered it in her heart for years to come.

Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that
I must be in my Father's house?

Obviously he needed a good spanking if he supposed that desertion of his parents was perfectly fine.

Yet think about it. He did not come to earth in order to be Mary and Joseph’s child. Just the opposite. Mary and Joseph came into earthly existence to prepare this boy for his role as the son of the Father of all things. And of course, every family’s duty is to send their children out from home when they have become adults.

A learning experience for this family, painful, good, and pointing toward the future Easter, when loss would turn out to be the ultimate gain.

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin (Steve) 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