“After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy stayed behind, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to look for him. After three days they found him.”
Luke tells this story of Jesus when he was 12 years old. It was time to head back home and after a full day of travel Mary and Joseph stop to set up camp with the friends and relatives they are traveling with. It was safer to travel in a group – and it had to have been a pretty big group for Jesus’ absence to go unnoticed for an entire day. But it wasn’t until they stopped to set up camp that they realized he was missing.
So while everyone else settled in for the night, Joseph and Mary set off – on their own and in the dark – back to Jerusalem. They made it of course, but imagine the actual journey. They traveled in a group for a reason. But here they are by themselves in the black of night. And yet, more than the fear of what could happen along the way, was what could happen to their missing son.
I’m sure they hoped they would get into town and he would come running up to them and all would be well. But it didn’t happen that way. It took three more days of searching after they got there before they found him. Luke tells us that when they finally found him, Mary said, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
He was missing. Who knows what had happened to him. We read it all in just a few verses and know rather quickly that it ends well. We don’t have the time to experience the worried sick feeling they felt while they searched day after agonizing day.
Sometimes our searching for Jesus – if we’re really going to find him – will pull us away from our normal way of doing things. Did I mention that it might take longer than we think it should? That there might be a little agony involved?
When Mary told Jesus that they had been frantically searching for him, she also asked, “Why have you treated us this way?” He knew they were looking for him. Why didn’t he make himself a little easier to find? Why didn’t he meet them when they first stepped into town?
I wish I knew the answer to that. Sometimes our seeking is hard and just gets harder. Mary and Joseph, after 3 days of agonizing searching, have found Jesus. After a brief celebration and sigh of relief, it’s time again to head home; only this time, since their friends and relatives are probably already there, they will be traveling alone.