Looking Back at Sunday’s Gospel — Luke 2:41-52

The childhood of Jesus is hidden from us except for this brief glimpse of an inquisitive twelve-year-old. I remember being twelve. I turned twelve only a couple of weeks after I started seventh grade. It was an important milestone because seventh grade was my first experience of a campus setting with multiple teachers in multiple locations throughout each day. I felt very grown up, and I was inquisitive, too.

The child Jesus had clearly passed a milestone, too. Every previous year he had traveled to Jerusalem, and he had done what was expected. After he turned twelve, something changed. He felt more like an adult. He realized more fully what being an adult was all about. He realized that he wanted to know more, and he figured out how to get that knowledge.

Jesus In the Temple Age 12Painting by James Tissot 1895
Jesus In the Temple Age 12
Painting by James Tissot 1895

Most clearly, he became more conscious of his true nature, and he sought his true Father. It would be wonderful to know the details of his days with the religious leaders in the temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. It was obviously a very different sort of conversation than Jesus had with such leaders twenty years later.Or was it?

The story says that Jesus sat there listening and asking questions. Hmmm. That is exactly what he would do twenty years hence. It is characteristic of Jesus’ teaching style: first he listened, and then he asked questions.

The story says that everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. That is exactly why the religious leaders who put Jesus on trial twenty years later had to act in secrecy. They knew that the people had high regard for Jesus.

What is the lesson for us?

For us, it is a reminder that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying, “Our Father,” the wording didn’t spring up suddenly as an emergency response to their question. It was his customary way of praying. He drew the disciples, and you, and me, into his circle and taught us to pray the same way he prayed. It was the way he had been praying all along, even before his twelfth birthday.

Among the numerous heresies that have been promulgated about Jesus is the idea that he wasn’t really God’s choice until the Holy Spirit fell into him at his baptism. Before that, he was just anybody. Some even said that the Spirit was like water in a cup, present within but not part of, Jesus. He might even have been truly illegitimate but adopted by Joseph and by God for God’s purposes. Certainly the story of Jesus’ birth ought to dispel such notions, but if there were doubts remaining, today’s gospel ought to seal the deal. Jesus knew by age twelve who he was. Almost certainly if we could read a transcript of his conversations with the religious leaders, we would see the foundations of the disputes that, twenty years later, would enrage the religious leaders. From the lips of a child, those ideas could be gently repressed as if they were immature errors. From the lips of a man whom the city had greeted with words like “Hosanna!” and “Hail, Son of David!” those same ideas sounded dangerous.

For us, the important thing is to see that Jesus was God in the Flesh, the second person of the Mysterious Three in One, at his birth, at the age of twelve and on the cross. Luke shows us who the Christ is, and he shows us that Jesus knew who he was, even as a child. We can safely trust the Christ who died for us, because he really is who he says he is. It is important to know because: 

  • This truth confirms our salvation 
  • This truth prepares us to welcome the Holy Spirit in our lives 
  • This truth gives us confidence when we pray to our heavenly Father as Christ did.

We can be very thankful for the confirming and reassuring revelation of Christ in the Jerusalem adventure of the twelve-year-old Jesus. In this story we are reassured of the truth that God was in Christ, just as Paul wrote, “reconciling the world to himself.” For you and me, and for the whole world, God was in Christ, fulfilling his promise to Eve, to Abraham and to Mary. We can trust our God, because he keeps his promises. He always is exactly who he says he is.