Fifth Decade: The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple
Jesus Among the Doctors
by Heinrich Hofmann (1884)
oil on canvas
Currently located in The Riverside Church, New York, New York
Did you notice it by yourself? In our last two paintings, Ribera’s Adoration of the Shepherds and Rembrandt’s Presentation, Jesus shines with Divine Light. I’m sure you looked at Jesus first in this painting and saw how bright He is. Good job – this means you are growing in your ability to “read” and understand sacred art!
This painting shows Jesus in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem talking to rabbis, which means teachers in English. The story about how He got there is a little exciting; I think you are going to like it.
Jesus is 12 years old in this picture. Who do you know who is 12 years old? It’s funny to imagine Jesus the same age as you, or the same age as your brother or your cousin! But He was! Guess what happened. His parents left the city of Jerusalem without Him!! They didn’t realize it, I don't know if He realized it, but there He was for a couple of days!! And when His parents finally found Him, He says something that sounds like talking back … but was it? Let’s try to make some sense of all of this! WOW!
In ancient times, Jewish men were required to go to Jerusalem three times each year; one of those times was Passover, which celebrates God delivering the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. When these Jewish men took their families to Jerusalem, they stayed for a minimum of two days, up to about a week. You might remember that Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with His disciples when He was a grown-up—we Christians call this Holy Week, and we celebrate His pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the one who remembered and told all of the details of this event so that it could be written down. She really made a point of saying that Jesus was 12 because being 12 years old was an important age. Jesus was just on the brink of manhood; when He turned 13, He would experience a special ceremony that would make Him a full member of His religious community. He would then be responsible in ways that adults were. When He was 12, He kind of tagged along on the trip to Jerusalem because St. Joseph had to go; when He was 13 and older, He was required to make the trip.
Do you know what Jesus said to His parents when His mother said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety”? He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Uh-oh. Does that sound like talking back? To me it sort of does.
But then I have to stop and think. Jesus is God. God is always good. Would Jesus break His Father's commandment and talk back to His mother? Would He be disrespectful to His parents? We have to be very careful when we read this Scripture passage. Of course, Jesus would not be disrespectful to His parents or disobey them.
Have your parents ever asked you to do something that you didn’t do right away, but you know in your heart that you didn’t intend to be disrespectful? Here’s an example: maybe you are so focused on reading a novel or playing a video game; your mom asks you vacuum the living room. You kind of hear her and you kind of say “ok. In a minute.” Two hours later you roll out of your room and Mom announces that you are punished. “But it only felt like five minutes passed, Mom!! Mooooooom! Mom?!”
It happens. People who study Scripture help us to stretch our imaginations in the right direction. Is it possible that Jesus was just so involved with listening, learning, and talking about God and a Messiah that He hadn’t realized that the caravan left without Him?
We’re all taught to “stay put” if we get lost; was that what He was doing?
Maybe He just couldn’t believe that His parents could actually leave without Him; they’re the parents – how could they not know with 100% certainty that He was with the group before they left?
Others ask us to consider that Jesus has a "Father" and a "father." When One says, "stay" and the other says, "Let's go," which one should young Jesus prioritize in obeying? Inside your Bible, Luke 2: 49 has a footnote that explains:
"I must be in my Father’s house":
So what was Jesus doing while He waited for His parents to come get Him? Let’s look at the painting again. Look at Jesus’ face; He looks so rugged and mature. Even though Jesus is 12 here, and fully human, we can’t forget that He is also fully divine. His Holy Face reveals His wisdom.
Let’s look at the artist’s use of light coming forth from Jesus. He doesn’t have a halo, but there is light coming from His head through His hair, can you see it? Use your finger or just your eyes to trace the shape of the light – you should be tracing an oval or vertical rectangle, can you do it? This oval shape is called a mandorla and it is usually used only in relief sculpture or architecture. It is like a halo around His whole body. Halos, mandorlas, and aureolas are all artistic demonstrations of a person’s holiness.
Jesus is surrounded by five teachers or scholars who live and work in the Temple. These men are experts in the Scripture passages we call the Old Testament. Jesus is the New Testament, and even at this age, He is explaining Scripture to them. Look how carefully these teachers listen. How are they reacting? What are they thinking?
Look at the rabbi who is sitting down. He’s turning the pages of his book as if he’s trying to debate or find an answer, but his hands are limp on the table as he realizes the Old Way has no value in the presence of the Christ Child’s wisdom. Can you see the rabbi with a scroll in his right hand and a closed book under his left elbow? These men are Doctors of the Old Law; their precious texts are closed up. The Old Law and the Old Covenants are symbolically passing away as they make way for the New Covenant between God and man.
Now, with The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple
And happy feast day! Today we celebrate our parish's patron saint: The Holy Family!
Secretly, many parents feel relief when they learn about the mystery we encountered today. When you have some time, I strongly encourage you to read this short, easy-to-read list titled "That One Time Jesus Got Lost ... And What It Taught Me About Parenting." It will empower you and its application will strengthen your family bond.
This has been our fifth thus final decade of the Rosary. I hope you've enjoyed our slow journey through the Joyful Mysteries and that you learned something new or thought about something you already knew in a new way. These pages will remain on our website, and I hope you revisit them every once in a while, or at least every Advent.
Mary Acevedo, Director of Religious Education
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here in our program, here at our parish, and throughout our Diocese.