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Apparently after one day's journey back to Jerusalem and a day looking for Jesus, it is on the third day that Joseph and Mary discover him at the temple, listening to and asking questions of the teachers. The exact location of the incident within the temple is unstated, but Jesus' discussion with the officials leaves those who listen amazed at his understanding and his answers. At the tender age of twelve, Jesus already shows signs of possessing great wisdom. Clearly Luke wants the reader to develop a sense of respect for this amazing, blessed child.
When the parents finally find him, Mary steps forward to address the young Jesus in a way that both parents and children can appreciate. She expresses concern about the anxiety Jesus has caused by remaining at the temple.
The mild parental complaint leads to Jesus' self-declaration of mission. With the reply appears the first of many dei ("it is necessary") statements in Luke (4:43; 9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 19:5; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44). The key phase in verse 49 is elliptical, making its meaning disputed. The statement reads, "I must be in the . . . of my Father" (the NIV renders this I had to be . . . ). Two views are popular: (1) I must be about my Father's affairs (L. T. Johnson 1991:61); (2) I must be in the house of my Father (Stein 1992:123; NIV). The second view also means that Jesus must be engaged in teaching God's ways, since for Luke the temple is a place where Jesus instructs (20:1—21:4). Greek idiom supports this second view.
Jesus' parents—and Luke's readers—need to appreciate that Jesus understood his mission. From the very beginning he is reflecting on the will of God. He starts revealing himself right in the center of Judaism's religious capital.
But there is a second key detail. Jesus refers to God as his Father. This alludes to the sense of family relationship and intimacy Jesus has with his heavenly Father (10:21-22). Such closeness to God not only is something Jesus' parents need to appreciate but also is a point the disciples will struggle to grasp (9:59-62; 14:26; Mk 10:29-30). In fact, Luke makes this the first note in a series of revelations that will build the case for who Jesus is. The infancy material stresses Jesus as Messiah, but this text is one of two hints early in Luke's Gospel that he is also much more. Luke reveals Jesus' identity gradually, bringing the reader along in an understanding of who Jesus is. So this first clue comes from Jesus himself. The other major clue comes in the infancy section, where Jesus' divine origin is tied to the Spirit (1:31-35).
Jesus is breaking new ground with his parents here, and they need to understand who he is, just as Luke's readers do. The text makes it clear that at the time they still did not understand what he was saying to them. But Mary treasured (or pondered) all these things in her heart, an appropriate response to Jesus' somewhat enigmatic remarks. Mary does what Luke wants his readers to do as well. It is good to pause and contemplate who Jesus is and the mission he performs. Even two thousand years of history does not do away with the need for such reflection.
Obedient to his parents, Jesus goes home with them to Nazareth. While there he grows in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Lk 1:80; 2:40). There he awaits God's timing to begin the ministry associated with God's house. In the meantime he shows respect for his parents through his obedience, a model for us in a world where teenage rebellion is all too common.