Fast forward twelve years. Mary and Joseph take their family to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, as they have done every year. When the feast is over, though, they accidentally leave Jesus behind. They get as far as stopping for the night with the group they are traveling with and finally realize he isn’t there.
They go back to Jerusalem to search. “After three days” could mean they spent three days searching, or that he was separated from them for three days. This sequence makes sense to me: a day of travel out, a day of travel back, and a day of searching before looking in the temple courts. But that is where he is, discussing with the teachers. The teachers are amazed at his answers, but Mary comes in and tries to bring a guilt trip on him. (Understandably. I’d be upset too if it took me three days to find my child.) Jesus doesn’t get defensive, but merely states that he was doing what was necessary.
It’s like he expected them to know where he had been the whole time. Usually I have heard this interpreted as “he’s the Messiah, of course he needs to be in the temple doing God’s work. Why didn’t Mary and Joseph remember that?” There might be an element of that, but I don’t think there were constant reminders that Jesus was special in his everyday life. He was perfect and sinless, yes, but the Magi visited about ten years ago, and things had settled down since the family vacation in Egypt. More likely, I think, is that Mary and Joseph had their plans, Jesus had his plans, and somehow these things were not communicated clearly enough. It’s hard to tell when Luke doesn’t tell us all that was said. But in the end Jesus returns home with his parents and obeys them as he should.
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