Great painting, that. Jesus, the Son of the Law (see the scroll) at twelve years of age, totally serious, entirely calm, peaceful, fully recognizing, so tenderly, not condescendingly, the profound distress of His dear Immaculate Mother and the stern wonder of dear Saint Joseph (because of the anguish he witnessed of dearest Mary), Jesus reassuring, instructing, clearly with an unbreakable bond of love that is experientially developing with such occasions.
Nevertheless, there is necessarily a certain brutality of circumstances in all of this. Let’s not hide from that. Let’s have some humility before the great mysteries. You have heard that it was said that the boy Jesus as a typical teenager was being sinfully “naughty” (that’s a blasphemy) in staying behind in Jerusalem without letting Mary and Joseph know about this. It is true that this would put them into grievous anguish. It’s true that He would know this. How much anguish, you ask?
These were the High Holy Days in the walled city of Jerusalem. Basically, the entire country showed up, both the good and the bad. There were those who were pious pilgrims. There would also be those taking advantage of them, the robbers and rapists, the “pickpockets” and murderers, the kidnappers and traffickers of persons. Everyone would be there.
Walking on the ultra-narrow streets with rivers of people would be nigh on impossible. A weak analogy would be my own experience starting inside the Damascus Gate of the northern side of the Old City going toward the Temple Mount down to the south. I wanted to take a shortcut through the Old City on my way back from Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in the West Bank over to the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Except for one time, I always walked. This is more than 30 years ago.
It was Friday. My bad. Friday is the day, and just at that time of day, that all the Muslim men in the region would make their way through the Damascus Gate going to the Temple Mount, specifically to the al-Aqsa Mosque for their Friday activities. The river of men immediately became so crushing that the thought came to mind that if I just lifted up my feet I would be carried along without falling to the ground. Yep. I did this three times just to prove it to myself.
The crush of people in such cities reminded me of why it would have taken Jonah so long to traverse Nineveh. It was extremely apparent how easy it would be to be irretrievably separated from someone, entirely losing that person from sight in just one second. If you had someone like Jesus, at twelve years old, with proven, awesome good sense and well able to take care of Himself, despite dangers, and given that it was not their first time in such situations, it being their custom to go up to Jerusalem during the High Holy Days, getting temporarily separated was to be expected and it was all good.
This is why it was no big deal for Mary and Joseph not to worry about not seeing Jesus for a full day’s journey on the return trip. Jesus didn’t shadow Mary and Joseph, but was surely with those in the caravan, right? That day’s journey on the return trip would have taken them down precipitous ravines winding down, falling down to the Jordan River on the far side of Jericho. The Temple Mount stands at 2,440 feet above sea level. The Jordan on the far side of Jericho comes in at -1,266 feet below sea level. That’s a difference of 3,706 feet in 18 miles, but with most of that descent done in about 11 to 12 miles as the crow flies.
But this wouldn’t be as the crow flies. Outside of the dangers in Jerusalem, there was probably no other more dangerous place than that ravine at that time. What a nightmare to look for Jesus in the caravan and not find him. And it was now night. What happened to Him? Mary and Joseph, exhausted from the super dangerous descent, immediately returned in the dark up to Jerusalem, looking constantly for the body of a 12 year old who had fallen and was crushed on the rocks, or who had been attacked by ne’er-do-wells. They would be frantic. And that went on for three days and three nights. They would be wrecked. There are no words.
And then they met up with Jesus in the Temple doing up rabbinic discourse with the teachers of the Law, being asked a question and answering that question with a question, which question would be fully answered with question, and so on, always jacking up the stakes, the best, most enthralling kind of instruction ever. I’ve done this a few times with a Jewish convert to the Catholic Church over in Rome, in public. An audience would soon gather. You gotta have guts to do this when you’re older, like a seasoned Chess player, knowing how to bait and then go on the attack. Jesus did this at twelve. Jesus is God. He is Truth. We see Him baiting adversaries throughout the Gospels, but who knew who He was, yet? This would have been awesome to take in.
I’m evil and bad, and here’s where I become particularly brutal in praising Jesus and in praising the entirety of Mary’s reaction. Jesus was baiting her into such anguish for three days and three nights on purpose, not sinfully, but all the more devastatingly. Jesus is a Son of the Law, but He is firstly Son of Mary. Jesus must be in His Father’s House, but Mary is firstly the very Ark of the Covenant. Jesus was instructing the teachers of the Law, but He was firstly preparing His Immaculate Virgin Mother for another three days and three nights of incomparable anguish after He would be tortured to death in front of her 21 years later. And the Gospel says that she (διετήρει) enduringly kept the words of Jesus in her heart. She would need this all-consuming experience to keep her alive when her maternity would fully flourish under the Cross. Even when He will disappear for three days and three nights, He will still be doing the will of His Heavenly Father.
Only recently did it strike me what the topic was in that Rabbinic discourse of Jesus with those exalted teachers of the Law in the Temple. There is only one possible answer. And it’s 100% certain. During those three days and three nights Jesus would be more in anguish for His Mother than she was for Him. Their hearts were always in solidarity one with the other, entirely, totally.
Jesus would have been entirely consumed with concern for His Mother. This would be by far the most difficult thing He had to do in His life (outside of the agony in the Garden, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves). Jesus, taking the option to choose the topic, surely chose Genesis 3:15, about the great Mother of the Redeemer:
- “And I will put enmity between you (Satan) and The Woman (the Mother of the Redeemer)…”
and then Isaiah 7:14, about an ever-virgin conceiving and bearing a Son:
- “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and one shall call His name God-with-us.”
and then Jeremiah’s Lamentations, to the point, 1:12, which is usually the caption inscribed below any Pietà, with Mary holding the very dead Jesus below the Cross:
- “Is this nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see! Is there any sorrow like mine, which was inflicted on me, which the LORD made me suffer on the day of His fierce anger?”
“Fierce anger.” Call it “brutal anger.” If you scroll back up to the top of this post, to the painting, take note of the teachers of the Law in the background. They are clearly speaking of Mary, as in, “Oh! She’s the one described by Jesus… which means that Jesus is…”
Again, Jesus wasn’t for a second sinfully “naughty”, just having some fun with the teachers of the Law at her expense and that of Saint Joseph, as some have blasphemously said. No. It pained Jesus infinitely more to have to put His mother through this, but it had to be done for her own good. This was a supreme act of solidarity of Jesus’ Sacred Heart with the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. While He is teaching in the Temple I see Him being quite emotionally distraught, in control, of course, but almost to the point of what would be happening in the Agony of the Garden, the very next mystery of the Rosary in the traditional ordering, with His sweating of blood. This would also be about His Mother. But, again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
At this point I’m at a total loss for words as to how to describe the perfect solidarity the hearts of Jesus and Mary had, Mary consumed with concern for Jesus such that would crush the rest of us who are so weak, Jesus devastated at each second, knowing exactly what His Mother is going through… because of Him… because of His doing the will of the Father, making all things new, already preparing her for that time to come… Jesus’ rabbinic discourse in the Temple had to be like unto His later Emmaus discourse, but this time about His dear Mother. And it would have been passionate, with authority, as if this was about the very salvation of souls, and it was. Meanwhile, He was training His Mother up for the heights of Calvary.
People don’t want to acknowledge Jesus purposely putting His mother through this anguish for her own good, for our good, surely because they are afraid that Jesus will also do this with us, and, mind you, we don’t have hearts like that of Mary, Immaculate, and so, without that purity of heart and agility of soul and clarity of vision and profundity of understanding. We will need much more work on our dull hearts and tepid souls than did she. We will never be able to begin to imagine the distress and anguish she had.
Afraid, yet, of all this brutality of love in truth? Don’t be. Jesus provides us with grace, entirely solicitous for our welfare. Mary, having also learned in this way, intercedes for us that we might “get it.” So, no worries. But Mary shows us the way in enduringly keeping Jesus’ words our hearts and souls and minds. That’s how to learn. Carrying the words of Jesus with us, day and night, even with Satan searching for the ruin of souls ’round about. Where is Jesus?! He’s working in His Father’s House, and we are living stones within that House. Mary is the Ark. Be joyful.
Meanwhile, watching this meeting of Mary and Joseph unfold, ten Hail Marys fly by before you know it.
By the way, we never find Jesus. Mary and Joseph did not find Jesus. Scrolling back up to that painting, take a good look. Jesus is finding them. This is always the Way. And those Two Hearts are ever more in solidarity, ever more one, and ours with theirs. Thanks be to God.