Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
As you probably know, the flagship of this ministry are the Schools of Discipleship that we run. At present count, we have 140 Schools in 14 countries around the world. The average age of students is dropping as more and more youngsters join the Schools. And one of our more recent schools — in Bandra, Mumbai — really took this down because it has a whole bunch of pre-teens who turn up for the classes. And they do so on their own, without mommy in tow!
When I first met these children and saw their enthusiasm to sit in with people much older than themselves and learn about Jesus, I realized an important truth. Children naturally gravitate towards Jesus — they have this natural inclination towards God and the things of God — and it is only when they are prevented from doing so do they move away. And who does the preventing? Strangely it is the parents of these kids!
We give more importance to their school work, pack in extra tuitions, dance and music classes, sports and other extra-curricular activities. God is right at the bottom of the list of priorities, if he is there at all. Then when the children grow older, we lament that our kids don’t go to church and are so far away from God. Whose fault is it? It’s ours, isn’t it?
I was reminded of this in today’s reading where Jesus somehow gets left behind in Jerusalem where his parents have taken him for the feast of the Passover. A day into their journey, they discover he is missing, and find him three days later in the temple, debating Scripture with the elders. “Why were you searching for me?”, he asks them. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
We might think a response like that merits a slap, or a rebuke at the very least. But there is a very important lesson to be learned from his response, which speaks of a fundamental truth. Jesus was the Father’s son; Mary should have known that. Likewise, our children belong to the Father first and foremost. Like everything we have been given in life, we are merely caretakers; stewards. One day God will demand an accounting. What are we going to say?
You know, every now and then I have a parent come and tell me that their child is lost. I look at them with sadness, because you know what? It is the parent who is really lost. If we find our way, the children will find their way too.