He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.
You would think that it would be pretty hard for Our Lady and St. Joseph to misplace Jesus, especially after all that they had heard and seen about his birth: The Annunciation, the dream of St. Joseph, the angels and the shepherds, the flight into Egypt and the Presentation in the Temple: But before you call Child Protective Services you might consider the circumstances. There were convoys of pilgrims, men in one company and women in another. Given the crowds and given the fact that Mary could easily have thought Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph that he was with Mary. But the real clue to what was going on was that it happened in Jerusalem and it was the feast of the Passover. Jesus was separated from them for three days. Jesus went down. You might begin to see the picture.
There will be another pilgrimage to Jerusalem and another large crowd, enthusiastic one moment, deadly the next. The teachers will say “that it is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish”. The child, when no longer a child, will be lost again and buried three days in a tomb. But what Jesus said to his Mother at the Wedding in Cana, he could say today: “My hour has not yet come.”
But still he says today “did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” How could they not know: the old man had told Mary ‘this child is for the rising and fall of many in Israel and a sign that is spoken against” and ‘a sword will pierce your own heart.” The Gospel this Sunday is a preparation for that hour. “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”
In his human nature Jesus must learn from the very men who will be responsible for his death, in the very place which he cleanses by casting out the money-changers. “"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do.” ‘Born under the law’, Jesus must learn the law. All learning requires humility: to learn you have to listen and know what you do not know, something which has been lost apparently in our universities of late. He could have easily protested their teaching; what do they know anyway? What they knew, never mind whether they lived it out or not, is the Word of God even for Word of God himself.
Yet the real school Jesus attended is what Pope Paul VI called ‘the school of Nazareth’. Because the Holy Family is a real family, the place where above all love is incarnated, it is also a place of sorrow. “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” We can hardly imagine that these are the words of hysterical, overly protective manipulative parents. This is burst of real grief, the wound of love, which the Holy Family experiences like every family. Nor can we attribute Jesus response as adolescent bravado: “did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” We know this because St. Luke gives us the result: “he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them”.
For Jesus God and obedience stand at the center of his family and constitute the glue that holds it together, creating a bond tighter even than the physical bond between the Mother and the Son. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother,” he will say later, knowing full well his own Mother’s fiat: ‘be it unto be according to thy word.”
Such is the school of Nazareth, where we too must learn. What we can learn there in the first place is to be hidden. After the scene in the Gospel this Sunday the screen goes blank. We will not hear again of Jesus until his baptism. Can we stand for even a few minutes, let alone years, not to be the center of attention? From Jesus in the home of Mary and Joseph we can learn to hear the Word, to be open to God, not only from reading the Bible, but by living the Gospel in that most intimate of human circumstances, where no can hide. At Nazareth we can learn that most unfashionable virtue, obedience, without which there can be no following of Jesus, no holiness of life, and no real love. Above all else at Nazareth we can learn to descend with Jesus.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them