In the beginning

Column: Left behind? Jesus’ behavior confuses even his parents


in the beginning

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

It is fairly common for a child to grow up not living with the biological father, while the new husband acts as a stepfather to the child. In a sense, the child has two fathers — one at home, the other away. We might think of this phenomenon as arising from the increase of divorce in our times. But actually, it bears a resemblance to the situation that Jesus experienced. After all, Jesus’ real father was God, while St. Joseph served as his stepfather.

This might have caused some confusion in the Holy Family’s life in Nazareth. We see evidence of that in Sunday’s Gospel reading for the feast of the Holy Family, Lk 2:41-52.

Jesus is a young boy of 12. While on a family trip to Jerusalem, he stays behind, while Mary and Joseph, unaware, proceed on the journey home. When they discover his absence, they return to Jerusalem and find him in the Temple.

Mary asks Jesus for an explanation for his behavior. She and his father have been looking for him. He answers . . .

Well, this is where the problem sets in. Jesus’ answer can be translated in a couple of ways. It can be translated as: “I must be in my Father’s house.” That is the translation that we will hear at Mass. It can also be translated as: “I must be about my Father’s business.”

Either translation makes sense. Jesus is standing in the Temple, the house of God, his Father. The story immediately preceding this one, in Luke’s Gospel, also places Jesus in the Temple, when he is presented there as an infant. Jesus’ close connection to the Temple emphasiz- es his connection to God.

On the other hand, while in the Temple, the boy Jesus is engaged in teaching about God. That is an activity that he will continue as a grown man. That is his Father’s business.

Either translation is legitimate. The sentence is ambiguous. If we have difficulty in understanding it, we are in good company. After all, the Gospel points out that Mary and Joseph “did not understand what he said to them.”

The confusion really starts with Mary’s initial question to Jesus, including the reference to his father. Mary means Jesus’ stepfather Joseph. Jesus’ answer only makes sense in terms of Jesus’ real father, God.

Perhaps the news that the Holy Family of Nazareth struggled at times with ambiguity and confusion in their lives can bring some comfort to the families of our times who experience similar struggles.

As we identify with the Holy Family, we can draw strength from their example.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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