The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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December 22, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Young Jesus provides the unexpected

Jesus is not miraculous at age 12, but is still well beyond his years

December 31, Feast of the Holy Family
(Reading I: 1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28 or Sirach 3:2-6,12-14; Reading II: 1 John 3:1-2,21-24 or Colossians 3:12-21; Gospel: Luke 2:41-52)

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

The story we hear in today's Gospel reading is unique in all of the canonical Gospel tradition. We hear of an incident in between the time of Jesus' birth and his public ministry.

The story fits well with our celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family. We learn about Jesus as a faithful Jewish boy who follows the traditions of his people. It tells about how his father and mother continued to raise him in this tradition. Jewish men were required, if possible, to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times a year. They were expected to do so during the great feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They were at least expected to do so during the Passover if the distance was great.

So our story begins by telling us that Jesus' parents who live in Nazareth, some distance away, went yearly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They probably traveled in groups. Jesus now was twelve years old. He was at the age when he would be expected to accept these obligations for a twelve-year-old was considered to have adult responsibilities. It is strange but his parents probably thought of him still as their child.

It seems that his parents did not discover that he was not with the group until evening. At the end of the day the traveling caravan would have broken up into family units. When they did not find him among the relatives and friends they probably were distraught. It meant that they would have to proceed alone back to Jerusalem. This is why the reading tells us it was on the third day that they found him. A day traveling from Jerusalem and a day back.

We have probably all seen paintings of Jesus standing in the temple preaching to a group of scholars who look astounded. There is some truth to what has been portrayed. Yet it may give us the wrong impression. On feast days and on the Sabbath, the teachers of the law often gathered for informal discussions and to answer the questions that people posed. So Jesus probably was in this audience. He may have answered questions asked by the teachers and may have asked some questions. We hear that the teachers and others were astounded. Now we should remember Jesus is twelve, from a small town up in Galilee not known for being a center of scholarship. He is not attached as a student to any important rabbi. Therefore, the expression of surprise or astonishment may simply mean that they don't expect a youth of this age to ask such good questions or give such good answers. We do not have to think that Jesus is doing something miraculous. Later in his life people will be astonished that he speaks with authority being untrained in any rabbinical school.

Mary's question is almost a kind of accusation. Jesus' reply is like a question of surprise. The answer also has been translated in different ways. We could translate it either as being in my Father's house or I must be about my Father's work. Luke tells us that his parents didn't really understand his answer but that they probably continued to reflect on what it meant. Luke ends this infancy narrative as it began in Jerusalem and in the temple. We get a glimpse into how people would eventually come to know the real identity of Jesus that he is the true Son of God. He, Mary and Joseph, show us what it is to be a religious family.

(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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