Holy Family


Luke 2:41-52


41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.

42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.

44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?

50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.


The list is long, and always growing. At the top, in capital letters, are two words: MUST REMEMBER.

It is a deluge of self-imposed demands: Write thank-you letters ... Buy new ballet leotard for daughter Emily (blue, not pink) ... Return call from sister ... Ask cool friend what is gansta rap. No cool friends. Make cool friend .... Baby sitter Saturday/Wednesday, pay newspaper bill/read back issues of newspapers, call nanny temp agency ... Trim son’s nails ... Dentist appointment ... Return Snow White video to library ... Be nicer, more patient person with daughter, so she doesn’t grow up to be a needy psychopath.

This is just one of the “must remember” lists compiled by Kate Reddy, the working mother who is the central character of Allison Pearson’s best-selling novel I Don’t Know How She Does It (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).

Mothers around the world can certainly relate to her endless lists, compiled while walking through life in what she describes as a “lead suit of sleeplessness.” And on this Mother’s Day, we can all be thankful for the many ways that time-and-sleep-starved mothers everywhere keep numerous balls in the air while being pulled in a thousand different directions.

I have to try to remember,” Kate Reddy confesses. “Someone has to.” Her husband is not much help, because if she asks him to hold more than three things in his head at once, you can see smoke start to come out of his ears. The circuits all blow. Women are programmed by evolution to be great at multitasking. Most men are not.

When a friend named Jill dies of cancer, she leaves her husband a sheaf of paper containing 20 pages of close-typed script. It bears the title: “Your Family: How It Works!”

Everything’s in there,” Jill’s husband says to Kate, shaking his head in wonder. “She even tells me where to find the bloody Christmas decorations. You’d be amazed how much there is to remember, Kate.” But Kate is not amazed. What mother would be?

As a mom, the Mary of Luke chapter 2 is not much different. She, too, has a long list in her head as she and the family take Highway 5 back to Nazareth from Jerusalem. With the festival of Passover now over, her mind races ahead to washing, cleaning, trash disposal, gifts, social events, decorating, sewing, cooking, negotiating relationships, caring for children. Wait a minute: caring for children? Where’s Jesus? Gone. Not there, not anywhere.

Now I know I am taking a risk this morning. It is Mother’s Day, and I have chosen a scripture about a mother who lost her child for three days. This is every parent’s worst nightmare.

My wife and I once lost our youngest son in a huge department store called “The World of Clothing.” I still do not know how it happened. We were walking around with two sons, looking at merchandise. Suddenly, we noticed we had only one son. Wesley was gone, vanished, disappeared. At first, we were very calm. We looked in the next aisle and then the next. Panic began to set in as we looked and looked but no Wes. We imagined the worst possible scenario: A child molester had kidnapped him. I even went to the front of the store where I could see the parking lot in case anyone was trying to take him out of the store. But after a few minutes, I happened to walk back to the original area where we lost Wes, and he came strolling nonchalantly out from among some stacked carpets where he had been hiding.

Sometimes the law ought to allow parents to kill their young. Since that day, I have never seen a World of Clothing store without recalling that incident. I guess my point is that I have some sympathy for Mary and Joseph.

Let us talk a bit about these verses from Luke 2. This is the only childhood story of Jesus, and it is only found in the Gospel of Luke. After the presentation of Jesus in the temple (2:22-38), Luke offers a transition in v40, saying: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” It seems we are now ready for the public ministry of Jesus, but that is not what we get. Instead, Luke tells us this story as a bridge between Jesus’ infancy and adulthood.

One thing Luke is doing in this passage is assuring us that Jesus was a Jew. That was important because Jesus certainly did not teach anything resembling orthodox Judaism, and people will accuse him of being a heretic. There will even be a rumor later on that he is not Jewish, or at least not completely Jewish. Luke refutes these assertions. Luke emphasizes that Jesus’ family did everything required by the Torah: he was circumcised at eight days (2:21); he was dedicated or presented to God at six weeks when his mother was purified (2:22); he had his bar mitzvah at twelve (2:42).

Then they lost him. The family is a day on their journey back to Nazareth and Mary begins to panic when she cannot find Jesus among the friends and relatives. She and Joseph had assumed he was in the group, but when he does not turn up, they race back to the city, their hearts pounding like jackhammers.

Mary imagines herself being hauled before what Allison Pearson calls “The Court of Motherhood.” That is a court every mother must face when she is feeling particularly guilty about her multitasking life. In one scene, from Pearson’s novel, the judge of this “Court of Motherhood” grills Kate on whether she told her mother-in-law that her daughter Emily loved broccoli—even though she did not know at that time whether Emily liked it or not.

Kate says, “But I couldn’t possibly tell my husband’s mother that I didn’t know whether my child liked broccoli.”

Why not?” asks the judge.

It’s the kind of thing mothers know.”

Speak up!” demands the judge.

I said mothers know that kind of thing.”

And you don’t?” asserts the judge. Case closed. The Court of Motherhood has reached a verdict. Guilty.

Mary is feeling guilty as she thinks about forgetting Jesus. How could she not know where her 12-year-old son is? As Kate Reddy admits, it’s the kind of thing mothers know. So, Mary feels the gavel of judgment coming down on her head.

After three/four days of frantic searching, they find him in the temple and are astonished. Mary asks, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (v. 48). That is not what I would have said to him. I would have said, “You are so grounded that you are never going to see the light of day until your fiftieth birthday.” Then I would have found myself a good thick stick and beat him like a yard dog. But I suppose that what Mary is saying is the first century equivalent of that. And we can relate to her frustration with a kid who sits around the temple for three days, acting as though nothing is wrong, while she and Joseph are overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness. We won’t blame her at all if she says to Jesus, “Why can’t you be more like your younger brother James, and stay close beside us?”

We can identify with James, the kid brother who lives with Jesus. Everybody loves Jesus. This is the James whose ossuary — burial box — made the national news several years ago. At the time, Jay Leno joked about Mary making a typical introduction of Jesus, “This is our oldest child who is, as you know, our Lord and Savior.” Then, turning to her younger son, she says, “And this is James, who’s still in carpentry school.”

As a regular thing it would have been tough being the brother of Jesus, but not on that day in Jerusalem. On that day, Jesus was definitely in the doghouse, and we understand Mary’s feelings. She loves her child. When he was missing, she was filled with fear and anxiety. Now that he is safely found, she consumed with frustration and anger. She is concerned about her family.

Now Jesus loved his mother and certainly he is also concerned about her and his father and brothers and sisters. But Jesus is also concerned about another family.

Jesus’ response is: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be en tois tou patros mou?” (v. 49). The KJV translates this phrase as “about my Father's business.” However, because the Greek expression is vague, it can also be translated as “among those people belonging to my Father.” The NRSV translates it as “in my Father’s house,” which may be the best rendering.

In our scripture passage, we have a picture of Jesus’ parents looking for Jesus. Their “search” started among relatives and friends (v. 44), then moved to Jerusalem (v. 45), and finally to the temple (v. 46). In v48, Mary says, “Your father and I have been searching.” Jesus response is: “Why?” He seems to be saying, Why did you not know where I was? Why did you not know that I was “in my Father’s house”?

Now what does poor Joseph say about this? Nothing. He is there but apparently Mary is the parent running the show. And there is another tension in this story. Mary says, your father and I have been searching for you—meaning obviously Joseph. Jesus says, I am in my father’s house—meaning obviously God. Mary is talking about his responsibility to one family. Jesus is saying, I belong to another larger family.

As followers of Jesus, we also belong to that larger family. Through faith in the risen Lord, we are adopted into God’s family. We receive all the liberties and privileges of the children of God. As the Apostle Paul says, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). God sympathizes with us, protects us, and provides for us as a father. That is our wonderful spiritual family in which Jesus is our elder brother.

So on this Mother’s Day, by all means love your earthly family. Jesus taught us to love one another. He would certainly say we should love our families. But do not forget your other family. You belong to the family of God, and belonging to that family, you can be assured that God will never cast you out. As I said last Sabbath, God never loses his children. The Westminster Confession of Faith says, you are “sealed to the day of redemption.” You will “inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation” (ch 7).


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 01/14/12