“Ask a Priest: Why Does Jesus Evade Mary’s Question in the Temple?”

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Q: When Jesus was 12 years old his parents were looking for him and after three days they found them in the temple. Why did he not make a direct, literal response to his mother about why he went missing? Instead of giving a proper explanation, he surprised her by asking her why she should have been worried in the first place. In fact, that should be like a mean thing a child says to his mother, especially after she has been frantically looking for him for three days. Over and above this he started speaking about his Father’s house, which seemed out of context. Second, why does it say that after this, he became obedient to them? Was he not before this as well? What does that mean? – P.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your questions touch on one of the core mysteries of our faith: the Incarnation.

Jesus is both true God and true man. This means that as a 12-year-old his thinking was similar to that of a youth. Jesus shows a bit of naivete, if you will, in that he didn’t think to mention to Mary and Joseph beforehand that he intended to stay in Jerusalem.

Yet, as God the Son, he stayed behind in Jerusalem because he knew that his mission was to do God the Father’s will.

This is where Jesus shows his two natures. He displays awareness of his divine mission and yet shows youthful inexperience by not informing his parents. If these seem odd to be happening in the same Person at the same time, that is a reflection of the mystery of Christ himself.

If you don’t understand it totally, don’t worry. Mary didn’t understand it totally, either. That is why she “kept all these things in her heart.” She needed time to process what her Son said.

The Gospel passage simply says, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). It doesn’t say that he was disobedient to them beforehand. His staying behind in Jerusalem could be attributed to youthful innocence rather than to malice.

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