We can learn from Mary and Joseph what to do when we’ve had Our Lord and then we don’t.
They lose Jesus and then regain him. We do too.
In the story, Mary and Joseph have Jesus with them — until they don’t.
“Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom,” the Gospel begins. Later, “as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.”
We often experience the same thing. We take Jesus for granted, and one day we realize he is missing.
We might assume he will always be with us automatically and stop making an effort to check in with him. Or we may expect our kids to learn about him by osmosis, and then suddenly discover that they haven’t met him as we expected them to.
When he does go missing, we can learn from Mary and Joseph what to do — and what not to do.
First, we might not even notice that Jesus is missing from our lives.
Mary and Jesus “journeyed for a day” thinking Jesus was somewhere nearby, just out of sight.
We lose Jesus’ presence in our lives — and the love of our marriage — in the same way.
In the First Reading we hear that parents deserve honor and authority from children and, when they are old and frail, they deserve kindness and care.
If this advice was ever obvious, it certainly isn’t today. How many of our families would be described this way, as “a father set in honor over his children” and “a mother’s authority is confirmed over her sons”?
How many of us have failed the command “My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives”?
Mary and Joseph are a model in this regard. They don’t lose Jesus out of neglect, but because their family is so close-knit. He goes missing when they are “thinking he is in the caravan” and their first instinct is to “look for him among their relatives and acquaintances.”
Second, we might look for Jesus — and for love — in a merely human way.
But the fact is, Mary and Joseph didn’t find Jesus “among their relatives and acquaintances.”
Neither will we.
As important as our family and community are, they are not sufficient to deliver what we need.
The equation isn’t Me + Family = Fulfillment; it is Family + God = Fulfillment.
The second reading lists all the virtues we need to have a strong family — compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and mercy. Then it lists the only way to get these: “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts,” it says. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
Even Paul’s much-misunderstood marriage advice about being “subordinate” is straightforward: Wives should not try to manipulate or domineer their husbands and husbands should not take their wives for granted or be dismissive of them — because that is not how Christ acts.
Third, Mary and Joseph “returned to Jerusalem to look for him.”
Ultimately, Mary and Joseph sought Jesus in the one place where we are all guaranteed to find God: His Father’s house. For them that was the Temple; for us, it is the Church.
We will always find Jesus in the Church’s teachings, in its sacraments, and in the tabernacle, where he still sits, asking questions and giving answers that astound us.
And once we have Jesus in our lives again, we can return to our family enriched, ready, like the Holy Family, to live the rewarding relationships that come with God’s grace.
But don’t forget that this whole story unfolds in a certain kind of family.
The final lesson from today’s Gospel is that the work of finding Christ with your family is not the work of a day, or a season. It’s the work of a lifetime.
Consider Mary and Joseph. What does today’s Gospel tell us about them?
They are a family that takes pilgrimages: They are used to making sacrifices for their faith. They are a family that speaks honestly to each other: Mary doesn’t hesitate to call Jesus out, and Jesus doesn’t hesitate to answer her, either.
And finally they are a family where the son is obedient, the mother ponders God in her heart, and where Jesus finds favor in Joseph’s eyes, as well as God’s.
We all far short in each of these — but we have all of our tomorrows to improve.
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