Post 12 about Christmas
Going to Jerusalem when Jesus Was Twelve Years Old (Good News 3:21-29)
No record has been found of a bar mitzvah ceremony in Judaism in New Testament times. Today the bar mitzvah is a ceremony where a 13-year-old Jewish boy takes on the responsibilities of manhood. The word means “son of the covenant,” and the ceremony marks the point when a Jewish boy is considered fully responsible for living according to the Law of Moses. In New Testament times, this age would have been about when a young man would be expected to start as an apprentice for whatever job he was expected to do for the rest of his life, whether there was a special ceremony or not. It’s likely that at twelve years of age Jesus had recently reached the age where his community considered him to be a man, and it’s possible that Joseph and Mary arranged some sort of ceremony at the temple during Passover to mark this transition–or maybe just taking Jesus with them to Jerusalem was the sign that he was now an adult and therefore expected to attend the feasts.
In any case, Jesus certainly seemed to consider this the right time for him to emphasize a transition from being Joseph’s son (apprenticed to Joseph as a carpenter) to being God’s son (apprenticed to God as the Christ). Given what the Bible says, Jesus childhood was probably not all that unusual, and Joseph and Mary may have started thinking that the rest of Jesus’ life might follow this normal pattern. In this event, Jesus was clearly letting them know that while he was only twelve years old, he was well aware that his life wouldn’t be normal. Jesus appears to have been saying quite emphatically, “My real Father is God, and now that I’m considered an adult, it’s time for me to get busy doing God’s work.”
Passover occurs the day before the start of a seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread, so the family had been in or near Jerusalem for at least a week. On the trip, Joseph and Mary would’ve traveled with a group of family, friends, and neighbors from Galilee, and the walk to Jerusalem would’ve been like a traveling social event. Joseph and Mary weren’t wealthy, and lodgings in Jerusalem during the feast were expensive, so it’s likely they would’ve camped outside the city with this same group. It would’ve been normal for children and young people to have their own activities during the trip and at the campsite, separate from the adults, though whatever adults were near the children would’ve kept an eye on what was happening. By this time Mary and Joseph surely had other children, and if those other children were along for the trip, Mary would’ve been busy looking after the younger children. Joseph and Mary would’ve considered Jesus old enough to take care of himself during the day, both while traveling and at the campsite. If this trip did indeed mark Jesus’ transition to adulthood, this may well be the first trip Jesus was allowed to attend the adult Passover functions even if he’d come to Jerusalem on other trips.
The three days Mary mentioned as looking for Jesus could mean one day of travel away from Jerusalem (when they weren’t really looking all that seriously), one day or a little more than a day of travel back to Jerusalem while checking other groups to see if Jesus had joined some other group bound for Galilee, and one day of hunting for Jesus (mothers can exaggerate when they’re upset), or it could mean three days of looking after returning to Jerusalem. However, it’s hard to see why the temple wouldn’t have been among the places that they would’ve looked first. The trip back to Jerusalem may have been somewhat slower than the trip leaving Jerusalem since they would’ve been searching every group heading out of Jerusalem toward Galilee, so Mary and Joseph may have found Jesus very shortly after they actually got back to the city.
An interesting point here is that this happened at the end of Passover, about the same time of year as Jesus’ resurrection. If we were to start celebrating Resurrection Sunday the week after Easter (as suggested by the chronology in this Glossary), it would be appropriate to occasionally tell this story with its implications on the Sunday after Resurrection Sunday.
From Birth and Childhood of Jesus – Events in the Glossary of Good News: The Life & Teachings of Jesus, a new translation of the Gospels blended into a single account, available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GULW042. If you find this interesting, please pass it along.