December 17, 2017

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding In The Temple

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.  And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so?  Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”  And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.  And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.  And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2: 41-52).

If you ever needed any evidence that the Holy Family was like other families in their day-to-day lives, you have it here.  They all go up to the Big City for the annual pilgrimage, an extremely important occasion as it is for Passover.  Like most country and small-town groups, they make a holiday of it and everyone goes together in family parties.  And we can see that the grown-ups stick together and the kids run around in gangs, and since it’s a festival time, things are more relaxed.  So when the boy Jesus isn’t with Mom and Dad, they naturally assume He’s taking advantage of being away from home to have fun with the other kids, and if He’s not here, He must be with Cousin Cleopas or Cousin Alphaeus or Cousin Salome and He’s okay, they’ll feed Him and give Him a bed for the night, He’s a big kid now, you can’t keep Him tied to your apron strings.

Then they find out that He’s nowhere to be found, and after what you can imagine must have been an unmerciful bout of “I thought He was with you!” running around and hair-pulling, they head back for Jerusalem in what must have been a fairly desperate hope that He was there and safe (a twelve year old boy on his own in the big city for three days?  Even back then, bad things happened in just those circumstances).  I’m not a parent myself, but I’ve heard plenty of stories about people coming back from the shops, unpacking and putting away the groceries, and having a vague notion they’re forgetting something – until they realise they’ve left the baby strapped in the carseat outside.  Consternation!

And then they find Him in the temple, and they must have gone weak at the knees with relief and, hard on the heels of that, must have been ready to kill Him themselves.  Mary is very temperate in what she says (my friend Dante uses this as the first exemplar of mildness rather than wrath in Canto XV, the Terrace of the Wrathful, in the “Purgatorio”), but she naturally asks “Didn’t you know your father and I would be upset?  How could you be so thoughtless?”

And what answer does He make her?  In the older translations I am familiar with, He phrases it “Do you not know I must be about my father’s business?”

Yeah, when I was twelve, if I’d made that answer to my mother after putting the heart crossways in her with worry, I would not have been sitting down for the rest of the day.

We get here, I think, a very deliberate contrast between the two fathers – between Joseph, His father in the eyes of the world (“your father and I have been searching for you in great distress”) and His Heavenly Father, in whose name He will begin and end His preaching ministry and who will acknowledge Him at the baptism in the River Jordan and in the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.  Now, you can say that this is a deliberate interpolation by later writers to bolster their case for the divinity of Jesus or to attribute a deity as His father in common with the other culture heroes, and we’ve already gone all through this, so there’s no point rehashing it again.  But there is a legitimate question about “Was Jesus always aware of His mission or when did this awareness come to Him?” and though I’m not going to attempt to answer that, I think we see the seeds present here.  He must be about His Father’s business, in His Father’s house, and that business would seem to involve the teachers of the Law and the Prophets.  What is the Father’s business?  Do we see here the foreshadowing of what will come later in His public ministry?

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7: 28-29).

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.  And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are — the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” Mark 1: 22-27

Although there does not seem to have been the tradition of the Bar Mitzvah in this time, still the age of twelve (or thirteen) years is significant in this context.  To quote the Wikipedia article on the topic:

 Whoever becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah has the responsibilities of an adult Jew under Jewish law.  These include

  • Moral responsibility for own actions
  • Eligibility to be called to read from the Torah and participate in a Minyan
  • May possess personal property
  • May be legally married according to Jewish law
  • Must follow the 613 laws of the Torah and keep the Halakha

Below the age of Bar Mitzvah, children are considered exempt from Jewish law, although they must undertake mitzvahs gradually, under the parent’s tutelage, as training and preparation for their coming of age.

In Christianity, we have the Sacrament of Confirmation around this age (can be earlier, can be later) and, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

1285 Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded.  It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace.  For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit.  Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.

1294 Anointing with oil has all these meanings in the sacramental life. the pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of catechumens signifies cleansing and strengthening; the anointing of the sick expresses healing and comfort. the post-baptismal anointing with sacred chrism in Confirmation and ordination is the sign of consecration.  By Confirmation Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which he is filled, so that their lives may give off “the aroma of Christ.”

1299 In the Roman Rite the bishop extends his hands over the whole group of the confirmands.  Since the time of the apostles this gesture has signified the gift of the Spirit.  The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words:

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

by water and the Holy Spirit

you freed your sons and daughters from sin

and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon them

to be their helper and guide.

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of right judgment and courage,

the spirit of knowledge and reverence.

Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

1300 The essential rite of the sacrament follows.  In the Latin rite, “the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, and through the words: ‘Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti’ [Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.]

For those of us of a certain generation, we also remember the idea of the “slap on the cheek” by the bishop signaling our willingness to suffer and undergo persecution: “In this connection, the touch on the cheek that the bishop gave while saying ‘Pax tecum’ (Peace be with you) to the person he had just confirmed was interpreted in the Roman Pontifical as a slap, a reminder to be brave in spreading and defending the faith: “Deinde leviter eum in maxilla caedit, dicens: Pax tecum” (Then he strikes him lightly on the cheek, saying: Peace be with you).  When, in application of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the confirmation rite was revised in 1971, mention of this gesture was omitted.”  Yes, by the time I was confirmed, we didn’t get slapped any more.

The sacrament of Confirmation makes us full and perfect Christians; we are called by our confirmation name, anointed, and the bishop invokes the Holy Spirit by the laying-on of hands.  From now on, we are supposed to develop a mature faith.

So the young Christ was in the position of a Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation candidate; from that time on, He was an adult of His faith.  And having declared His mission from His Father in Heaven, He then returns to His earthly home, dwells with His parents and doubtless learns His foster-father’s business in St. Joseph’s carpenter shop, until it is time for Him to set out on His public ministry.  Having left Mary and Joseph for His Father’s work, He does not abandon them, but returns to them.  As we are called to do the work of our Father, but also not to abandon those close to us?

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature.”

 

Comments

  1. Dan Crawford says:

    I was slapped on the cheek in the Old Dispensation, but since the entire rite was done in Latin, I hadn’t a clue. Sadly, many of those confirmed in the Catholic and other Churches today in English still haven’t a clue.

    • Speaking as a Cranky Old Person, sometimes I feel that they should have kept the slapping (and you kids get off my lawn right now!)

      😉

  2. When I was ordained as a transitional deacon in the Anglican Church, I didn’t get slapped, which I was ready for, but I did get whacked on the top of the head with a Bible, by the Bishop.

    I love the significance of confirmation, first communion, chrismation, baptism, etc., in sacramental traditions. It’s such a big event, we know that it’s not meant to be repeated over and over, as some evangelical groups do with baptism (even though they might verbally endorse the idea of “one baptism”).

  3. David Cornwell says:

    “The sacrament of Confirmation makes us full and perfect Christians; we are called by our confirmation name, anointed, and the bishop invokes the Holy Spirit by the laying-on of hands. From now on, we are supposed to develop a mature faith.”

    This teaching is full of power if stop to think about it. It says something about the expectation of God, Church, and parents. It passes on increasing responsibility to maturing children. It tells children that they are becoming morally responsible human beings. It lets them know that God, Church, and parents are with them now and forever.

    Protestantism many times has passed this off lightly in my opinion. In some of our traditions we pray for our children and teenagers hoping that they will be saved and give their lives to Christ, but it seems we leave the decision to them to make as they will. The traditions that have formed our belief systems, Jewish and historical Christianity, seem to say otherwise.

    • David, you have a way of expressing my thoughts so much more eloquently than my own ability permits.

      Along slightly different lines, I recently taught on the power of baptism liturgy, and how it not only represents a covenant between God and the individual being baptized, but it’s a covenant between God, person, and the church community. It’s to be taken seriously! I would love for you to take a look (http://homiliesprayersbread.wordpress.com/tag/baptism/), and give me some feedback.

      Peace…

      Lee

      • David Cornwell says:

        Lee, thanks for the compliment. I assure you that I don’t always feel eloquent! I like what you say on your website because it is teaching what we (the church and families) need to know. There’s a lot of confusion about confirmation and baptism all around Protestantism and good teaching, like yours, is much needed. I have deep Methodist roots and so am very much in tune with that liturgy. It seems also to be similar to other traditions.

  4. I’ve often wondered about Jesus’ awareness of His future ministry, when still a boy. I have wondered too, if Mary and Joseph remembered or if God supernaturally suppressed this knowledge until the appropriate time. If in fact they knew, I can only imagine the dawning sense of dread when they realized they had lost the Christ-child. Not a happy moment, I’m sure.

    • Matt, I wonder, too, about these things. Angels and dreams were so much a part of the nativity story of Jesus and then we hear nothing about Jesus until age 12. Did he seem like “just another kid” to his parents and community as he grew up? Who taught him to read? What did he like to do for fun? Did Mary and Joseph have any kind of idea of what Jesus had to do with his life? Sometimes I think he must have seemed like just a normal kid in his community because when his community hears about things that he is doing during the three years he was walking among his disciples and he comes back to talk to people in his community, they try to throw him off a cliff! I guess they didn’t like that one of them was acting “special.”

  5. This story raises all sorts of questions in my mind about how the humanity and divinity of Jesus interacted, in his own experience. The connection to the age of confirmation is really interesting. That’s the age when we first become able to think abstractly and first become interested in our place in the world and what we’re called to. I wonder if Jesus, being limited by the structure of his own human brain and what sort of thoughts it was able to think, perhaps did not fully recognize his own divinity until his body and mind had developed to that point. Then on this trip to Jerusalem he awakens to that reality and suddenly even his own family seems less important than that identity and calling.

    That’s how I choose to read his response to Mary – not as a somewhat insensitive adolescent remark, but as him trying to explain to her that the whole world of God and God’s calling has suddenly opened up to him, and that discovery compelled him to stay in the temple. I think we all, both at that point in adolescence and later, have similar experiences that make everything else seem unimportant, especially once we too, through Jesus, begin to be caught up into the dance of the Trinity.

    • Yes, that’s the intriguing question: given that He was truly man as well as truly God, and that orthodox Christendom holds that His humanity was not swallowed up by His divinity, then obviously He had some of the limitations of ordinary humans. So how aware He was of His mission and what would happen becomes fascinating, and we do see it here in the “Finding in the Temple”.

      There’s a lot in this mystery, if you dig into it. How, for example, Mary and Joseph find Him in the temple and then bring Him home – so we too should seek Christ in the church (and that is why the community of church is important, and why ‘I can find God in nature so I don’t need to go to a building on Sunday’ isn’t enough) because that is where He is to be found, but once found, we don’t leave Him there; we bring Him back with us into our ordinary lives the rest of the week.

      And the link between the Jewish faith and Christianity; as St. Paul says about the Gentiles ‘engrafted’ onto the olive tree of Israel: “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.”

      And as Christ says in His public ministry: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

      And the family as the domestic church. And a lot more I didn’t dig out 🙂

    • David Cornwell says:

      Robert Farrar Capon makes the following statement about human and divine sides of Jesus:

      …”…Jesus, in his human mind, is not omniscient.

      “The fact that Jesus is God in man means exactly that: he is true God, genuine Deity, in an equally genuine and therefore complete, even mere humanity.”… from: “Kingdom, Grace, Judgement” page 23

      He goes ahead to fill in what he considers to be the correct perspective on all this, whether one agrees totally or not. And the above quotation really needs the context of the whole to understand it. Stretching our human mind around this is not easy.

  6. Jack Heron says:

    I’ve wondered about the extent to which Jesus understood His mission and how His conception of Himself changed over His life. There are sections of the gospels in which Jesus seems to be unsure or in which He is tempted to give us His mission (would it have actually been temptation if there were no chance He would say ‘yes’?). Don’t forget His anguished prayer in Gethsemane or cry of abandonment on the Cross. And that’s not even getting into questions like ‘did Jesus know everything?’ or ‘did He ever make a mistake – even a minor one about how best to perform carpentry?’.

    I don’t know whether we necessarily have the language required to talk about the subtleties of the union of human and divine, but I wonder whether in some way Jesus’ life was akin to (don’t read too much into this) going through puberty. New ideas and aspects of ourselves come to the surface – but they are still inextricably part of us, not something implanted in or given to us. And they’ve always been there, somewhere, even when hidden from us by our youth.

    • “would it have actually been temptation if there were no chance He would say ‘yes’?”

      Excellent points there, Jack, and I hope I can incorporate them when moving on to the five sorrowful mysteries, the first of which is the Agony in the Garden 🙂

  7. Martha, are you planning eventually to compile these wonderful essays into a single rosary booklet of some sort? I would LOVE to have these all in one place!