When Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem after Passover, we are told his parents found him “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Since much of our mental imagery is framed by art, especially Medieval and Renaissance religious art, we may have a slightly imbalanced picture of what was going on.
First off, Jesus wasn’t in a church as we may imagine. The Temple wasn’t a church in the modern sense. It was an enormous religious complex. One way of thinking about it would be to remember that the Vatican isn’t just St. Peter’s Basilica. In somewhat the same way, the Temple was not only a place of worship, but also a center for various activities.
The Temple consisted of several areas. Both men and women could enter the Court of the Women, where the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21:1–4 occurs. Only men were allowed in the Court of Israel, and only priests were allowed in the Court of the Priests. In addition, there was a Court of the Gentiles where, as the name implies, non-Jews could enter. This is where the moneychangers that angered the adult Jesus were located. And then there were covered porticoes where members of the Sanhedrin would come sit and teach ordinary people during festival time. It is under one of these porticoes that Mary and Joseph found Jesus, listening to the scholars, and asking questions.
The Gospel tells us that his parents were “astonished,” but it was Mary who called him out: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (2:28).
Why did Mary address Jesus and not Joseph?
While many theological reasons have been suggested as to why Joseph let Mary speak, sometimes Occam’s razor, which says the simplest explanation is often the right one, might play a role. It’s entirely likely that Joseph was both annoyed and angry at Jesus for scaring him and Mary. At the same time, he may have been so overwhelmed with relief that Jesus was safe that he just let Mary do the talking. It’s entirely logical that Joseph wisely realized it was best to keep his mouth shut right then. (One can’t help but think that the journey home to Nazareth was a bit tense for everyone!)
Recognizing that Joseph may have experienced strong, negative emotions, including anger, doesn’t detract from his holiness. It simply reminds us that he was a human being, with all the natural, normal feelings of any human being—including feeling very upset when your child does something that literally scares you to death.
In the end, it’s not having feelings but what we do with those feelings that makes all the difference. Joseph shows us that difference.
“One cannot love Jesus and Mary without loving the Holy Patriarch.” –Saint Josemaria Escriva
Saint Joseph, help me remember that simply having strong emotions, even negative ones like anger, is not a sin. Amen.
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