Anyone still journeying along on this wild ride through Scripture in one year has most likely encountered this odd little story at the end of Luke’s second chapter–the one where Mary and Joseph lose the Creator of the Universe when he was twelve years old.
They were in Jerusalem for the Passover, which they attended every year. When it was all over, they packed up all their stuff and left to begin their 90-mile trip home. Except they forgot one little thing: Jesus.
And it’s not like they just got to the corner and quickly saw he wasn’t there–it took a full day before they noticed he was missing!
I can only imagine the uncomfortable conversation between Joseph and Mary when they realized this.
Mary: “Uh, have you seen Jesus?”
Joseph: “What do you mean? Of course I’ve seen him. He hangs around my workshop all the time. He hardly ever stops talking.” Shakes his head. “Oy, so many questions.”
Mary: “No, I mean today. Have you seen him today?”
Joseph: “I thought you had him.”
And so on–I suspect Mary’s response to Joseph at this point may not be fit to print in a Christian blog.
To be fair, they made this annual trek to the Holy City with a large extended family group, and undoubtedly the kids hung out together and drifted between the different families. It could happen to anybody, right?
On a more serious note, after the extraordinary lengths they had to go to just to keep Jesus alive for the first couple years of his life, this must have been terrifying for these parents. On top of that, it was another four days before they found him:
When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.Luke 2:45-46 (NIV)
Another day’s journey to get back to Jerusalem, then three days looking for him. They probably looked everywhere before they checked at the temple. I mean, what kid voluntarily goes to church?
When they finally found him there, they paused being freaked out just long enough to be astonished that everyone in the temple courtyard–which would be all the really smart religious leaders–was amazed by his understanding and answers. But then mom got hold of herself and asked Jesus what the heck he was thinking and how could he do this to them.
Jesus’ answer to her was as baffling to his parents as this story may be to us:
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”Luke 2:49 (NIV)
At least this little episode has a happy, if not a little confusing, ending.
It may be both tempting and appropriate to ask why this little story is here. Luke’s is the only gospel that mentions it. So why did he include it? As with most Bible stories, there are probably several reasons, and at multiple levels.
One possible answer is that it shows us it’s OK to lose Jesus. I know I did at one point in my life, when I wandered unsuspectingly into the desert only a couple years after finding myself in the verdant pastures of rebirth. I believe all three of my kids lost Jesus, but my oldest has found him again. And so have I.
It’s OK to lose Jesus as long as you never stop looking for him again.
Oh, I know, when you’ve lost him, you wouldn’t say you are looking for him. You’re looking for something, you’re just not quite sure what it is or where you’ll find it. So you look in all manner of strange places that this world has to offer. Escapism, like alcohol, drugs, sex, music. Career success. Enlightenment (how ironic that most who call themselves enlightened are often as far from the truth as you can possibly be!). Family, friends. The mall or Amazon. And so on–the list is as long as the human mind is creative and depraved.
But not all of these things are bad in and of themselves. They are just ersatz answers, cheap knock-offs of the true peace and fulfillment that can only be found in the Source of All Answers.
It’s important to note, though, that there’s good news for us when we lose Jesus, or when someone we love has lost him:
- The “Hound of Heaven”, as Francis Thompson referred to God in his 1890 poem, will never stop looking for us even while we’re looking for answers in all the strange places we are able to dream up.
- God the Father and God the Son have promised us that if we look for Him with all our hearts, we will find Him.
So if you’ve lost Jesus, just keep looking like Mary and Joseph did and you’ll find him. He’s really not so hard to find, after all.