The story of Christ staying behind unannounced as a twelve-year-old boy after His family returned home from the feast of the Passover has always troubled me. Upon first reading, the story feels so out of line with the Master's character. Why did His devotion to His Father's business have to come at the expense of what I can only imagine were three days of worry, fear, and agony for His parents as they searched for Him? And when they did find Him, to be met with rebuke, "And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?" You can read the story in Luke 2:40–52.
I hesitate to write anything about this because it nearly feels like too sacred ground to speak about His family relationships or to speculate about His intentions in such matters. I know the Lord will forgive me if I write in error.
It seems to me that the Lord knew very well of His divine calling. And had to spend a great deal of energy helping those around Him understand it. We know of one other such occasion, nearly two decades later, where His mother Mary and His brothers try to get Him to attend to some sort of family matter while He is teaching. Again He answers almost uncharacteristically, "My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it". You can read the story in Luke 8:19-21.
The Lord knew who He was and what He came to do but it seems those who knew of His humble origins had the hardest time getting on and understanding His role. When He does reveal His identity as the promised Messiah, He is met with criticism, "Is not this Joseph's son?" I believe Mary knew her baby boy was the promised King, after all before her miraculous conception the angel Gabriel gave her precisely this revelation.
I sometimes wonder though, exactly how much did she know? Did she know He would be beaten badly by the Romans, the crown of thorns? the vinegar when He cried for water? As she watched Him working with wood and nails as a carpenter, did she know nails would pierce her baby boy's hands and feet to wood? Did she know He would suffer temptations & pain unlike anyone before or after Him? That when His body lay limp on a cross, soldiers would gamble for His things in front of her and His closest friends? When she kissed him did she know that her precious Son's life would be betrayed by a kiss and bargained for silver? Could any mother know these things and go on mothering her child without a constant undercurrent of fear and protection that is only natural to that role?
Perhaps she did know. I think she must have known at least a little, I pray she did not know it all. I can't imagine such knowledge, of the imminent suffering of your most precious loved one, not robbing the very precious time you have with them. It seems that in these verses where we learn of her searching for Him and reprimanding Him as He is about His Father's work or asking Him to come out while He preached that she did not fully know. Or at least the numbing effect of daily concerns kept those realities somewhat at a distance for her. I think He needed to teach her and perhaps prepare her, just like He needed to teach all of us, who He is and whose He is.
I think Jesus, as a twelve-year-old boy, knew who He was better than anybody. I think He began the process of letting the world, and His mother know. Furthermore, I wonder if He knew of the pain His mother would experience as she surrendered Him to His calling. I wonder if He was preparing her for the crucifixion. If He, knowing what awaited Him, began preparing His mother to face that reality. That losing him for three days to unexpected ministry at the temple as a twelve-year-old was a foreshadowing and a preparation for losing Him for three days to death itself. Preparation for losing Him day after day as He ministered and devoted His life to the Father... Not only for her but each of us. He knew He was the Father's, that His will must be the perfect expression of the Father's will. I can't help but wonder if His unannounced departure to teach at the temple in His boyhood was deliberately unannounced to help prepare His parents for the other, unthinkable things to come. The Savior's family must have had to learn that He was not only theirs but all of ours. This thought deepens my admiration and respect for Mary that she also gave her Son for us and that in order to do so the Lord Himself helped prepare her to do it. Though I'm certain it was not without pain for Him or for her.
One last thought about these stories, I think the Lord is teaching us something about boundaries here. Isn't it remarkable that He would not let the expectations of even His closest loved ones stand in the way of fulfilling His mission? I think the Lord was also teaching us that we must be equally devoted to fulfilling the measure of our own creation. And when our friends and our families, in their love, unknowingly risk putting us off course... because perhaps they don't understand what it is we know we've been called to do... that we must not let it change our course of action. We can't let the fears of others feed our own doubts when we are about the Father's business. We can show compassion and love to the needs of others but that does not mean acting against how we know we ought to act, indeed kindness untempered is cruelty.