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“Why were you looking for me?”

On the Readings for Sunday, December 26, 2021, the Feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Holy Family depiction at Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Dili, East Timor (Kok Leng Yeo/Wikipedia)

Readings:
• Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28
• Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or Ps 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
• Col 3:12-21 or 1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24
• Lk 2:41-52

Being lost isn’t always what it seems. People usually end up lost when they take a wrong turn or misread directions. And then we sometimes speak of “losing ourselves,” usually in some sort of pleasant diversion: reading a book, watching a movie, or taking a walk in a familiar park or garden.

Yet it takes a unique person and perspective to be lost without actually being lost in order that those who seek you will not only find you, but will find you more deeply and more truly.  It takes the twelve-year-old Incarnate Word to be lost in such a way. It is rather humorous, in fact, to think that today’s Gospel reading, which is the only story about the youthful Jesus between his first weeks of life and his adulthood, is sometimes said to be about Mary and Joseph seeking the “lost” Jesus. Is he lost?

To them, yes, he is lost; they are as anxious as any parent (even a sinless mother!) would be. But the young Jesus was not lost. He purposefully, St. Luke writes, “remained behind in Jerusalem.” He had spent time in Jerusalem every year; undoubtedly he had explored parts of the city and knew some of it quite well, especially around the Temple. And when he was found after three days of frantic searching by Mary and Joseph, he did not express the relief of a frightened child huddled in the woods. Rather, he matter-of-factly asked two questions: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

As Monsignor Ronald Knox observed in his Lightning Meditations (Sheed and Ward, 1959), these responses leave us “puzzled, perhaps faintly disconcerted…” Surely the young man spoke with a smile, Knox suggested, “otherwise the remark would be intolerably priggish.”

What is clear is how difficult is the translating of Jesus’ words; they do not directly refer to a “house,” but more obscurely to “the things of the Father.” Knox muses that “the sight of Joseph hard at work makes him want to be a carpenter already, at twelve; but then, the thought of his Heavenly Father, tirelessly at work all the time, makes him impatient to begin his real ministry…” After all, his words—“I must”—are as urgent as they are puzzling.

What was the work, the ministry, the things of the Father? A central part of it was teaching, especially to teach “the teachers.” The Son of God, the author of the Law, would both explain and fulfill the Law to the teachers of the Law. This focus on teaching is especially emphasized as the Passion approaches: “And he was teaching daily in the temple” (Lk 19:47; see 20:1; 21:37). After being arrested, facing the chief priests and elders, Jesus stated, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me” (Lk. 22:53).

Sitting in the midst of the teachers, Jesus taught by asking questions. This was, Origen observed in a homily, befitting his youth. Jesus “interrogated the teachers not to learn anything but to teach them by his questions,” he wrote. “It is part of the same wisdom to know what you should ask and what you should answer.” But Jesus also astounded the teachers, St. Luke writes, with “his understanding and his answers.” Having come to seek and save the lost, he revealed man’s need for the Messiah by both asking and proclaiming, prodding and eliciting. “For the Son of man came,” he told Zacchae’us, “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10).

When Joseph and Mary spent three days seeking Jesus, they were being drawn deeper into the mystery of salvation. They knew Jesus was the Messiah, but how could they not be astonished that he was teaching the teachers? This required further pondering, thought, contemplation. And so, also, for us. In seeking him, we will not only find him, but will find that we are the ones who have been found.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the December 27, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1179 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

14 Comments

  1. We do not have any recorded words of St Joseph but we do have a statement of human love/concern/respect for him from his beloved wife St Mary.
    When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

    His parents (Earthly Parents) didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” He responds in Truth “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Or in other words, given all that you both knew, why did you not put your trust in God.

    The above statement reflects the reality of two human lovers.

    I stood amongst the stars, as a child with Guardian of great age
    With face like a Buddha or a babe
    No hair, eyes gentle shone, two pools of delight tenderness bright
    No word was uttered; he stood near, in right hand, test tube with seed
    My heart did read, it all started here I did perceive
    Then in garden of delight, tap of eternity running crystal clear
    He took me close and I did fear
    I was in ancient land amongst clamor, dust, and sand
    In spirit approaching from the rear, He turned;
    His sight stooped me in my flight
    Rabbi! two pools of delight, held me tight
    I entered cool room, within maid and future groom
    Pitcher pouring water, in hand, her beauty *shone from within*
    As if she had never seen sin

    “It must have happened when you touched my hand” (The Betrothal?)

    I saw the goodness in his manly face, no doubt did take place
    He was a true lover, who knew goodness in another
    A holy family did take place in trust, love, gentleness, and grace
    There was no duty here; this was love in highest sphere
    The room grows dark; from two lovers I do depart
    Now on gloomy hill, all nature still, approaching the Cross,
    Shock! nakedness, such suffering
    All nature seemed to groin with pain, I was home again
    Numb with shock, such suffering cannot be forgot
    This in truth is what I saw, I make no comment I open a door.
    *It is fair to say that this same light shone from the Groom also*

    The above statement aslo reflects the reality of two human lovers.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • My goodness, that’s just beautiful. After Mass this morning I recalled in my mind the following (sounds trite after your comment) My nephew ran off in Marks and Spencer’s and hid under a rack of clothes, my Mother screamed his name, she was frantic, he sheepishly emerged from the rack and she told him off. He cried. I cried when she told me what happened. It’s a Mothers love.

      • Thank you for your comment, Norah It’s a Mothers love Yes absolutely but also a father as I remember an incident many years ago when my very young daughter went missing for about ten minutes we were both frantic with worry.
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  2. i wonder if concern for their child’s safety is not a valid concern. At his birth the Holy Family fled to Egypt to avoid the attentions of the authorities. One could reasonably assume this state of affairs lasted sometime afterwards leading to a mild paranoia on the the part of his parents for his safety regardless of the knowledge of who he was.Hence the frantic search.Perhaps it is worth asking if this event helps partly explain why we next hear of Our Lord when he is much older.

  3. “They were being drawn deeper into the mystery of salvation” (Olson). If I may add a kernel to a well explored mystery. Was the mystery inclusive of an unexpected deepening of faith by the act of insubordination itself?
    +Honor father and mother was not honored here by Jesus. So it seems. John of the Cross speaks of quarrying, digging for the inexhaustible riches in the revealed word. Does the out of character in God test us?
    +“Curse God and die! You speak like a foolish woman. We accept good things from the Lord, should we not accept evil?” (Job 2:10). Always troubled by this. That God would inflict evil. Then doesn’t the Father inflict this on Christ, who begs him to achieve the salvation of Man by some other way than the contradiction of the Cross?

    • Hi! Peter (Fr Peter Morello, Ph.D.) as you are aware all suffering goes back to the Fall (Original Sin) and what terrible suffering there has been which still continues today, in our humanity do we not accept death and disease as reality related to us in these words “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, (Change direction) you too will all perish.”

      An extract from a letter written by St Mother Teresa’s to the Sisters of Charity:
      “At the Incarnation, Jesus became like us in all things except sin; but at the time of the Passion, he became sin. – He took on our sins and that was why He was rejected by the Father. I think that this was the greatest of all the sufferings He had to endure and the thing He dreaded most in the agony in the Garden. Those words of His on the Cross were the expression of the depth of His loneliness and Passion – that even His own Father didn’t claim Him as His Son. That, despite all His suffering and anguish, His Father did not claim Him as His beloved Son, as He did at the Baptism by St. John the Baptist and at the Transfiguration. You ask, ‘Why?’ Because God cannot accept sin and Jesus had taken on sin – He had become sin. Do you connect your vows with this Passion of Jesus? Do you realize that when you accept the vows *(Way of life in Christ) you accept the same fate as Jesus?” *My insertion in brackets.

      I have struggled with understanding this statement as it appears Mother Teresa is saying that Jesus took upon Himself the sin of Adam (Original Sin) perhaps you (Or anyone else on the site) would be kind enough to give me your understanding of this statement by St Mother Teresa.

      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      • Kevin, if Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s letter is authentic [at times there’s that discrepancy] it’s to be understood as the thought of a mystic. As such the mystic frequently uses figurative forms of communicating a basic truth.
        Here the allusion is to Christ becoming sin as the Apostle Paul says that hell, eternal death, the penalty of sin may be conquered. As Christ compares himself with the serpent, the symbol of evil and the devil, in the bronze serpent made by Moses to dispel the bite of real serpents killing the Israelites.
        There is then a truth in Christ identifying with sin itself, that the legacy of sin be destroyed. How then do we understand God’s rejection of Jesus as a sinner? That in an inexplicable sense, we cannot entirely fathom the mind of God, in the penalty we deserve impaled on his humanness. And in a redemptive sense in the Father’s recognition of his Son’s sacrifice.
        Christ in his humanness suffered a profound sense of rejection crying out My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? That cry was real, not staged, emitted from his human nature in the truly unfathomable mystery of the Incarnation. His death on the Cross is, to the best of my apprehension, a fathomless mystery of divine love.
        In this sense the Sisters of Charity might identify with the stricken, impaled Christ figuratively, yet in a real sense to fulfill his mission as a sinner [we are all sinful deserving retribution unlike the sinless Christ] deserving Crucifixion. As an act of the deepest humility the Sisters, and ourselves may perceive ourselves as reprehensible sinners deserving retribution rather than honor, recognition, award, all that effaces true interior humility.
        As Our Lord counselled Catherine of Siena, that priests when presented before Him at Judgment should say, forgive me Lord your worthless servant. So then Kevin, this humility is found in what Christ suffered on the Cross.

        • We know theologically our salvation required a man to reconcile us with the Father, no man of himself was capable of this, thus the Incarnation. Christ in his humanness suffered all that a man would. God the Father theoretically judged him a sinner as others with expectation of willingness to pay the exacting price. Job, the innocent man who endured extreme suffering, despair cursing the day he was born prefigured the agony and price Christ paid.
          On the Cross his crying out Lord, why have you forsaken me as said above was real, a cry from the depths of his despondency and darkness of soul questioning God’s love. His condemnation.
          In the end Jesus like Job in sheer humility surrenders his will, his reasoning to God and by an act of faith places full trust in the Father, offering him what Adam failed. Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit. That is when our salvation was secured.

          • Thank you, Peter (Fr Peter Morello, Ph.D.) for taking the time and making the effort to respond to my questions while expounding on (As you say) the unfathomable mystery of the Incarnation. It was helpful but I will have to reflect further on the words “Why Have you abandoned me” as my simple understanding says God never abandons us we abandon (Separate) ourselves from Him……………………………….. As you can see I had written quite a long post to post but have now just read your addendum post above while also having come to a similar conclusion in humility surrenders his will, his reasoning to God and by an act of faith places full trust in the Father” in these words

            ,“ Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit”

            While scripture say “Jesus grew both in body and in wisdom, gaining favor with God and people and yes this growing was ultimately manifest in a final act of humility/trust before God and mankind and as you say, Peter “That is when our salvation was secured”

            Sincere thanks for your endeavors in this matter
            kevin your brother
            In Christ

          • My Post below is not showing so I have submitted it again
            kevin your brother
            In Christ

            Kevin Walters
            DECEMBER 28, 2021 AT 6:41 AM
            Your comment is awaiting moderation.
            Thank you, Peter (Fr Peter Morello, Ph.D.) for taking the time and making the effort to respond to my questions while expounding on (As you say) the unfathomable mystery of the Incarnation. It was helpful but I will have to reflect further on the words “Why Have you abandoned me” as my simple understanding says God never abandons us we abandon (Separate) ourselves from Him……………………………….. As you can see I had written quite a long post to post but have now just read your addendum post above while also having come to a similar conclusion in humility surrenders his will, his reasoning to God and by an act of faith places full trust in the Father” in these words
            ,“ Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit”
            While scripture say “Jesus grew both in body and in wisdom, gaining favor with God and people and yes this growing was ultimately manifest in a final act of humility/trust before God and mankind and as you say, Peter “That is when our salvation was secured”
            Sincere thanks for your endeavors in this matter
            kevin your brother
            In Christ

          • Kevin, of course you’re correct on this. It’s impossible that the Father would hate his beloved Son. God is love, that love explicit within the trinity of Persons. Your instincts reveal that to you. What a saint may say isn’t always sustainable, here it could only be understood as figurative. Follow the Gospels, our irrevocable source of Christ’s identity and relation to the Father.

  4. Carl Olson: “When Joseph and Mary spent three days seeking Jesus, they were being drawn deeper into the mystery of salvation.”

    Perhaps we think too much in spatial terms…Is it not so much that Christ was found in the temple, but rather that he was/is the temple, and that the temple in Jerusalem was within Him? How could He not be “in” the temple?

    And, perhaps, his being “lost” was really the lostness of Mary and Joseph? And, that this moment served as an early assurance to Mary that later, when after the crucifixion, and He again seemed “lost” for another three days, she could fully know in the temple of her own heart that this was not the case…

    And, perhaps when Mary consented to His fateful first miracle at Cana, it was partly because after eighteen year of “pondering such things in her heart” she really knew how things really are, partly by remembering back to the lostness of the temple. And, now was signaling to Christ that she was really ready and fully with Him for what was to come–the lostness and the contained foundness of the completed “mystery of salvation.” Mary’s “do whatever [!] He tells you”, echoing her own, original and timeless “fiat!” Buoyed up, too, as she was by His publicly promised restoration of the temple–His body–“in three days.”

    Christ was not “lost” in the temple–and perhaps His “I must be in my Father’s house” is less an urgency of the moment than the incarnate fact that it could never be otherwise?

  5. In addition to my Post above. Part of a post made by Patrick on another site with my response
    “Mary, to you I pray,
    In the Autumn of my years
    Beg Him to be with me
    At the cold hour of my death.
    Amen”

    Thank you for your Patrick for your comment may your sincere pray lead you to have faith (Trust) in these Words given to us by our Lord Himself
    “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.

    We ‘Trust’ in the authority of the Son. We ask in His Name ‘only’ for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And in doing so we hold true to these words given by His esteemed mother “Do whatever He tells you”
    May God bless you Patrick this Christmas time and always
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  6. I liked the article; and as usual it comes to its points without too much delay and is easy to read. Also is probing. I can envision Jesus at 12 exploring Jerusalem, as Carl relates; both for a boy at that age who already knows parts of it and in light of what He would declare later, “I have come to set a fire ….. ” I wonder where He would have slept at night, perhaps with one of the teachers who were in His parents’ circle. Perhaps there was a fast involved. Was Jesus friends with Lazarus when they were boys?

    The BVM’s question is intriguing to me, in this sense. She is telling us about Joseph and mediating it to Jesus and to us. She makes a way to bring everything into place.

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