“Why have you done this to us?” (Luke 2:49),
With his bar mitzvah at age 12, Jesus becomes an adult member of the community and considered responsible for his own actions and life. Jesus meets this expectation by deciding to remain in the temple after his parents had departed, thinking he was in the caravan returning to Nazareth. Distraught, they search for him and after three days find Jesus in the midst of the teachers of the Law engaging in midrash, or biblical exegesis and interpretation. The scholars are impressed. His parents are anxious and hurt by his decision to disregard their needs and feelings. His response does not soothe their hurt. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
The purpose of parenting is to bring a child to the threshold of independence. Parents no sooner receive a child than he or she begins to go apart and away, destined to take up responsibility for living their own lives. Mary and Joseph became a holy family by going through a succession of surrenders so that Jesus could fulfill his life’s purpose to obey God.
In addressing the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School earlier this month, President Obama described parenthood as the experience of having your heart outside of your body. Your child moves beyond your control and supervision into a world where harm can come at any moment and you cannot be there to prevent it. From the moment of birth, children hold their parents hostage to the world. Every new parent realizes that they are now responsible for making the world a place fit for their child to grow up in. Social progress is rooted in this simple proposition — to make a world worthy of our children.
In Jesus, God’s heart walked in the world, vulnerable to all ordinary harm and to growing threats and resistance from those in power who recognized the demands his example would make on them. Mary and Joseph were given early indication of the difficult path he was taking up from that moment forward.