The Fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Anthony Zimmerman
January 27, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

The Fifth Joyful Mystery is a shining occasion to pray for family life, for our own and for all families in the world. Mary and Joseph had that exceptional situation that their Son was also their Lord and God. They may have pondered whether they are supposed to obey Him, or must He obey them? Until Jesus was twelve years of age - the coming to majority in Israelite culture - Jesus had apparently obeyed as every other child in a family should do. Then at the age of twelve came this event of self-assertion on the part of Jesus that proved stressful to His parents.

Mary and Joseph did what they must do in daily life to cultivate their consecrated virginity in the context of marital duties. Artists are wont to paint Joseph as a bearded adult somewhat advanced in age, but there is no hint of that in the Scriptures. The more likely situation is that both were young adults who had to invent a married lifestyle of perfect chastity, and live it day after day in all kinds of circumstances. Mary had made her vow, and Joseph had enough spiritual sensitivity to recognize that her nuptial body, once the Tabernacle where the Lord had dwelt, was henceforth a closed garden, a sealed fountain, off limits to secular purposes. Mary, in turn, learned to make the chaste life as easy as possible for Joseph, and to make joyful companionship ease the threats of undue tension.

We can easily conclude from what we read in the Scriptures that Mary found Joseph to be reliable, protective, and resourceful. He did what the man of the family is expected to do when traveling the ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, registered with the officials, was handyman at the Sacred Birth, welcomed the shepherds, received the royal visitors from the East, welcomed the gifts they brought, made the required arrangements for the Presentation in the temple, escaped during the night to Egypt, supported the family as a refugee, then established a carpenter's trade at Nazareth. His calloused hands guided those of His Son who must grow to be a Man among men.

For example, when Herod's henchmen were about to descend upon Bethlehem to kill all the male babies, Joseph took in stride the midnight order that the angel whispered to escape into Egypt. He lost no time in obeying the order. Herod's assassins must not find Jesus.

Now when (the wise men) had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son" (Mt 2:13-15).

I like the word that Luke uses here: "He TOOK the child and his mother." All was action, words were few. It was night and there was no time to lose, not much fussing about explanations and what to take along. Seeing his decisiveness, Mary fell in line, probably whispered only one or two questions, then grabbed what she could and was waiting quick as a flash while he roused the reluctant donkey. Perhaps they left payment for the lodging in the manger, then Joseph hoisted Mary and Child on the puzzled beast, strapped on a back pack with essentials, and felt for the road without lantern, lest they betray their escape route to pursuing troupes. When the sun rose they were out of sight of Bethlehem and beyond immediate danger. Joseph breathed more freely, broke the silence, and explained to Mary the orders that he had received.

Note that despite Mary's special gifts of holiness and her supremely favorable position with God as Daughter of the Father, as Mother of the Son, and Immaculate Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the angel issued his orders to Joseph and not to Mary. Earlier also, the angel had issued orders to Joseph that he was to name the Child Jesus. Heaven observed proper protocol in holding him responsible for duties ordinarily assigned to the men in Israelite culture. Joseph responded to this entrustment by taking charge.

Joseph might have found a job of sorts among fellow Israelites already settled in Egypt. The Holy Family learned at first hand what it means to be refugees. Jesus was not pulling divine rank by working miracles to make life easy for His parents and Himself.

Joseph was astute enough to not trust putting the family into danger a second time by living under a paranoid king in Judea, and waited for a signal from the angel to confirm his next move:

But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'" (Mt 2:22-23).

Safe now in Nazareth the Holy Family lived unobtrusively among the town folks. Their house, according to tourist guides, was close to the local Synagogue where Jesus could get some schooling. But the distance downhill to the town well was greater, where the ladies did their laundry, shared gossip and recipes, and replenished their water jars for home use. The little Jesus eagerly tagged along with His Mother to help where He could, to wrestle with the other boys while their mothers worked, and to return home balancing a small size jar of water on his head as He marched back up the hill with His mother.

By the time Jesus was twelve years old He had accumulated enough knowledge about the Scriptures to impress the teachers in the temple at Jerusalem. Perhaps His father and mother rehearsed lessons with Him at home while He was learning them at the Synagogue. That He also acquired a pleasant voice and manner of speaking we learn from the Gospel, for He easily attracted crowds and held them spell-bound as they listened to His parables and teachings. With Mary and Joseph as His models and guides, He was becoming a confident and impressive leader.

When old enough, Joseph taught Him how to hold chisel and hammer, how to use the tape measure to stake out the footings of a house precisely, to fit planking and window sills and roof supports snugly into fluted slots to form a solid structure without need of nails. Joseph modeled for Jesus not only craftsmanship but also salesmanship and business practice. If customers were slow about paying, how to beguile, to shame, to demand. And if things got rough, He would ask Jesus to leave the shop so that he could play hardball with the recalcitrant without frightening the Child.

From Mary Jesus learned about the flowers that bloom on the roof in the morning but are dry be evening, how to read the signs of the sky. He used this home-spun wisdom in His sermons later in life:

He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:2-3).

Today we say: Evening red and morning gray, sends the traveler on his way; evening gray and morning red, brings down rain upon his head. That He loved the outdoors we learn from the Gospels, for he sometimes spent the night under the stars.

All too soon Jesus was no longer their Child by reason of age, and the Teenager did His own thing.

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. 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 company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking 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 they 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 looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:40-52).

At age 12 a Hebrew boy marks the end of his childhood and the coming of age as a man. With other boys he receives instructions in the duties of the covenant which will henceforth be his. Today the ceremony of coming to adulthood is called Bar Mitzvah, which means "Son of the Law."

The narrative indicates that the parents were not overanxious and nervous about keeping close and perpetual tab on the whereabouts of their Son. They trusted Him to take care of Himself without excessive monitoring. But the alarm went off when they traveled a full day and still did not find Him among the crowd trekking back home after the visit at the temple.

Mary expresses her consternation when they find Him: "Son, why have you treated us so?" She took it as a personal offense. The reply was that of a grown up, now independent of His parents: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" The meaning of this reply they did not understand at the time, but Mary kept on pondering in her heart what it all meant. Commentators do not agree on how to interpret it. May I speculate a bit with you.

Jesus, as God, knew all things by His divine knowledge. As man, He learned by experience slowly as His brain developed and He observed the world round about. But - and this is maybe what He wanted to teach us by His reply - with His created soul He was keeping complete vigilance over heaven and earth. It was not the doctors of the temple who were teaching Him; He it was who was sizing up the amount of knowledge they possessed.

On the day of His conception, He spoke thus with the Father: "'Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God" (Heb 10:7). Together with the creation of His human soul, God communicated with Him in His human soul via the beatific vision as the Church teaches; and by way of infused intelligible concepts as theologians commonly believe. By this vision, and by these infused intelligible concepts, Jesus knew with His human soul everything that was going on in the cosmos, from the temperature of the North Star to the nanometer measurement of 46 chromosomes of His single cell body at the time of conception. "The soul of Christ, which is a part of the human nature, through a light participated from the divine nature, is perfected with the beatific knowledge whereby it sees God in essence (Summa Theologica III,10,2, ad 1). And Pope Pius XII re-iterates that Christ's beatific vision began with conception, when He was but a single bodily cell. From that moment onwards He was fully engaged to spend His life as our Savior:

But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceeds all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvelous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself" (Encyclical The Mystical Body, No. 75).

Christ, with His spiritual soul, was humanly aware of everything going on, but His bodily human brain did not have the capacity to make Him sensibly aware, with sensible perceptions, of all the things that He knew spiritually.

I speculate. Before the age of twelve, the brain of Jesus was that of a boy, of a limited and circumscribed minor, whose bodily awareness of responsibility and choice was, like ours at the younger age, not yet fully developed. That changed legally at the age of twelve. At the age when He had become a "son of the law" He would no longer be totally under the tutorship of Mary and Joseph as before, but would take on responsibilities of His own. Nevertheless He continued to be assisted by the support and tutorship of His parents, to learn from their experienced wisdom how to live as a teenager and then a young adult. The brain is not yet fully developed at the age of 12; I have read that it is not yet entirely developed in regard to awareness of the responsibilities attached adult decisions until the age of 22.

In reference to the difference between sensible awareness processed by the human brain, and the beatific vision and knowledge infused by God into the soul of Christ, this example may help us. At Baptism God infuses into our souls the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. By virtue of these infused realities poured by God into our souls, we do believe, and hope, and love, yet we do not have sense perception of all this. We practice our virtues habitually, but don't see or feel them. When we join others in prayer and song, the spiritual fervor may spill over into warm perceptions of faith and love, but still without sight or touch. Or think of the wise men coming from the east, who saw a star in the sky with their eyes while God enlightened their minds spiritually about the birth of Christ. Sense perception of the star in the sky helped them with the exercise of their faith in spirit. In much the same way our obedience to Catholic teachings helps us to hang on to the faith. All this is rather obscure to us, but that does not negate the reality, and we will understand it all when we have the beatific vision.

So, perhaps to emphasize the point, Jesus put Mary and Joseph on notice that there would be a change. From now on He would take charge of Himself and engage in His heavenly Father's business as He knew it from the beatific vision in His soul. But He would also act as the teenager that He was, and continue to lean on them to consolidate the mastery of His human sense of rights and duties until he achieved full adulthood.

We note that Mary mentioned Joseph as "your father" whereas Jesus spoke of "my Father's house." The inference should be to put Joseph and Mary on notice that His newly assumed status will make Him more directly responsible to His heavenly Father than to His foster father. That subtle implication may have escaped the immediate comprehension of Mary and Joseph at the time. But Jesus, knowing that He had come from the Father and was going back to the Father, also knew that Luke would write this account in the future Gospel. He spoke in this manner to remind not only Mary and Joseph but also all of us that He was humanly aware of His duties as our Savior, that He acted always and everywhere as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, even in His humble human guise.

Despite knowing who He was, Jesus could not yet begin His public life and preach the Kingdom of heaven while still a teenager. No one would listen to the Boy. He had barely begun to grow a beard. Therefore, aware that His public life should not begin yet, He returned with Mary and Joseph to mark time in Nazareth while He acquired all the proper trappings of an adult among adult peers:

And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:51-52).

John L. McKenzie, S.J. enlarges on this beautifully:

Jesus was obedient to them: This last reference to Joseph in the Gospels is a beautiful tribute to him. Obedient to his guidance, Jesus grew to perfect manhood. Jesus advanced in wisdom: Luke stresses his connatural condition. He grew as any boy would.... and in grace: Lovableness in the sight of God and men, including not only spiritual holiness but also graciousness, tact, charm, and attractiveness. Jesus grew in all ways - physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually - for the work that lay ahead of him (The Gospel According to Matthew" in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, New Testament, page 126).

May all the children in our families do likewise, grow in wisdom and grace and in favor in the sight of God and man.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, bless our family.