Commentary Luke 2:41-52 Part 2
Jesus has been born into a Jewish family that fulfills the requirements of the Law. He is circumcised on the eighth day and named Jesus.1 After 33 days of purification, according to Lev 12:4, his parents take him to the Temple in Jerusalem in order "to present him to the Lord" and to enable Mary to offer a sacrifice for her cleansing (2:22-24). Since Jesus is a first-born son, "a male who opened the womb," he like all first-born males has to be sacrificed to the Lord.
All the males that first open the womb shall be sacrificed to the Lord. For when Pharaoh refused to let us go, the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt (Ex 13:13-15).
Joseph and Mary, therefore, were confronted with two alternatives: to redeem or ransom Jesus or to allow him to be sacrificed to God. They chose not to redeem him but "to present him to the Lord." By being dedicated to God, Jesus remains God's property.
Joseph and Mary also fulfill the requirements of the Law by journeying to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feasts (Ex 21:14-17). When Jesus is twelve years old, nearing the age of his bar mitzvah, his parents take him with them "to keep the feast of unleavened bread." Perhaps Mary accompanies the two males because Hillel had prescribed that women should participate in the festival of the Passover.
At the end of the feast Joseph and Mary join their caravan of relatives to return to Nazareth, but unknown to them Jesus remains behind. When they discover his absence among their kinsfolk, they return to Jerusalem in order to search for him. After three days they find him in the Temple, seated in the middle of the teachers, hearing and interrogating them; "and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers." Already at the age of twelve, before his bar mitzvah,, Jesus is a person of unusual discernment. His parents are astonished but also indignant, "Why did you treat us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you anxiously."
Since Jesus had been dedicated to God, it should have been no surprise to his parents—and to the reader!—that he should be found in the Temple. Yet it is startling that in response to his mother's reprimand, "Your father and I have been searching for you anxiously," Jesus differentiates another father, "Don't you know that it is necessary for me to be in the things of my Father."2 Gabriel had informed Mary that her son would be called "Son of the Most High" and "Son of God." Now, already in his youth, Jesus begins to claim that filial relationship with the Most High by referring to him as "my Father." That filial relationship will be presupposed throughout the Gospel. 3 It will be the form of address that Jesus will teach his disciples in the Lord's Prayer (11:2).4
Jesus' relationship to the Temple will be reoriented when he returns to Jerusalem for a second time in the narrative world of Luke's Gospel. As a boy he is in the Temple involved in his Father's business. At the climax of his career he will cleanse the Temple but soon afterwards enunciate its imminent destruction (19:45-48, 21:5-6). The Temple, like the Law, is worthy of the highest respect, but it cannot impart salvation to Israel. Stephen, in Acts 7:44-49, will reject the Temple because "the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands." And in Acts 13:38-39, the Apostle Paul will declare:
Let it be known to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses.
Joseph and Mary did not comprehend Jesus' response. But then to what extent will the reader? The narrator concludes this episode by stating that Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and was subordinate to them. He may identify himself with God as his Father, but at the same time he acknowledges and submits himself to the authority of his earthly father and mother.
Mary stores up all these things in her heart as treasures. But what a paradox must confront her at this point! Gabriel's annunciation has portrayed a glorious future for her son:
He will be great and be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his rule there will be no end.
Simeon, on the other hand, has told Mary:
"This child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce your own soul—so that the reasonings of many hearts are exposed."
The narrator's reference to Mary's storehouse of memories will, of course, be directed at the reader at this junction in the narrative world of the Gospel. Before the careers of John and Jesus are narrated, the reader is lured into reflection on the contradictory projections of Jesus' forthcoming ministry. What kind of future is to be anticipated for him?
More immediately, however, the narrator sums up the so-called "unknown years" that precede the commencement of Jesus' ministry:
"Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature and in grace with God and human beings."
The remarkable parallel to this verse in 1 Sam 2:21 and especially 26 may be intended to remind the reader of the experience of the young Samuel in the Tabernacle of God before he entered into his career as judge and prophet of Israel.5
Herman C. Waetjen
1. The naming may indicate Joseph's adoption, as it does in Matt 1:18-25. 2. The phrase, "Father's house," which is found in several contemporary English translations, is not in the original Greek. The King James is more correct in its rendition, "my Father's business." 3. See 6:36, 9:26, 10:21-22, 11:2, 13; 12:30, 32; 22:29, 42; 23:34, 46; 24:49. "Father," or Abba in Aramaic conveys intimacy, not patriarchy. 4. On Jesus' use of "Father," or Abba, see H.C. Waetjen, Praying the Lord's Prayer: An Ageless Prayer for Today (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999), pp. 49-62. 5. See also Prov 3:4.