Since they’re so few and far between, I like to indulge every opportunity I get to imagine Jesus as a rebellious teenager—probably because I can relate so well. Jesus ditching his family in the Finding in the Temple is one of the most tangible (and plausible) examples I can think of. Aside from imagining Jesus as a wild child, I frequently return to this Bible story because I find it so rich in practical wisdom regarding life as a person of faith.
Mary and Joseph had just returned from shlepping the whole family out to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem when they discovered Jesus was missing. I always imagine the moment they found out they lost Jesus in classic Home Alone fashion:
“Hey, where’s Jesus? He was just with you, right?”
“With me? I thought he was with you!”
After chuckling at that image, I turn to reflect on my own life: How many times have I gone to Church to celebrate Easter, Christmas, or even just a normal Sunday, and have left Jesus in the Church as I exited? Sometimes in the rush to finish things up before the week starts, I leave God in the spaces of prayer without allowing Him to accompany me during the rush. In the times when I might feel particularly distant from God, I pull a Mary and Joseph and search earnestly for God in the people around me, but that doesn’t often get me to the root of the situation.
Much to his parents’ relief, Jesus is finally discovered in the temple, and while Mary chastises him for leaving, Jesus (in his rebellious voice) says, “Where else did you think I’d be?” Although I paraphrase Jesus’ words, his response always strikes me in an “oh, duh” way.
Sometimes I find it fruitful to observe the world around me when looking for God: a good conversation with a friend or the beauty of nature might reignite my wonder and leave me in awe of the majesty of God. However, there are certainly times when that is not the case, since the world has its fair share of suffering and sorrow to offer as well. The latter moments do make it difficult to see God, but when I get stuck in that rut and remember the Finding in the Temple, I find myself in a “duh” moment: God is present in the world, but that isn’t where God promises to always be. Well, where is that, you ask? Duh—in the temple. Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” and that’s the practical definition of Church, the regular gathering space of the community of faith.
The community of faith and God manifest in the Eucharist are two reminders for myself that though I can make finding God complicated, it is simple. God is where God says God will always be.
As Mary and Joseph return home from the temple again, Jesus comes with them. Sometimes it takes returning to the temple once more to ensure that Jesus comes with us from that religious space and into the world.
Lest you forget where we began, let’s turn our attention back to our favorite teen rebel, Jesus of Nazareth. I would imagine that staying in the temple was one of the first times that Jesus was separated from his family for an extended period of time and ventured off on his own. Sound familiar? Jesus, at this stage, reminds me so much of what it means to be a college student, leaving home for the first time to establish oneself as an adult in the real world—while occasionally causing parents great anxiety about the one’s chosen path (let’s not forget that lovely part).
Leaving behind the familiarity of home to explore oneself can be fruitful, but I feel that it bestows on me a responsibility. When Jesus leaves his parents, it’s to dwell in the Temple, to cultivate his knowledge of God to better understand His plan. I like to think of that as a personal challenge: how am I using my college education and formation to pursue a path that leads me closer to God and brings me to the Temple?