"And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions." - Luke 2:42-46
We don’t know how long her back was turned, how long he was preoccupied. We don’t know very much about their general parenting styles. But we assume a lot. Maybe we have to in order to make sense of things. Gaps in stories that grip us invite imagination, they catapult themselves into projections of our own experiences so that we can relate and form meaning.
What we do know is that they were on a trip on a holiday "as usual." Maybe he’d nagged his parents saying that he needed to stay. Maybe they listened and gave an emphatic no. Whatever they did, the boy knew his mind, as children will, and he broke away from the group. Why? We can only imagine. What we do know is that he was gone, and his parents didn’t even notice.
Picture the message boards, the comment sections, the think pieces, the daily devotionals, even. Can’t you just hear the news commentators, the parenting experts, the professional opiners? As the flurry continues, as imagination fills gaps without factual detail, as projections make responses to the story more and more personal, we take sides. Do we blame the parents? The system? And as we do, I wonder:
Who winds up on Jesus’ side?
Because that recalcitrant runaway child is, of course, Jesus. I mean this literally. It was Jesus who broke away from the group on holiday. It was the Theotokos, Mother of God, Mary, who lost her child. It was Saint Joseph, Patron Saint of the Church who failed to notice for an entire day that he had left his son in Jerusalem. It was the Holy Parents who first felt that primal dread when they realized their son was missing. Yikes.
So if we must take sides, how do we take Jesus’?
In short: we show compassion. If we’re ever wondering how to follow Jesus, the way is always through love. Following Jesus never means pointing a finger. Instead, we stretch out a hand.
Holy One: help us to keep our babies safe, as parents, as village, through love without judgment. Amen.
Kaji Douša is the Senior Minister of The Table, United Church of Christ of La Mesa, California.