When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:42-43 NIV)
Only desperation drove Joseph back to the temple that day,
three days into a frantic search for his son,
leaving Mary hollow-eyed in the porch,
pulling, finally, out of her hard hands,
leaving her reaching, alone, under the hooded
eyes of the widows and wives who gathered there,
who spent their days huddled on this far shore,
camped on the beach of God’s awareness,
forbidden to enter the sea.
He pulled away and into the cool male shade of the inner courts,
the quiet, the undersea calm, guilty to have escaped,
and guilty to feel his escape, from her panic her hysteria,
the fear that, moment by moment,
mounted and made her into a stranger.
“Excuse me, Rabboni, have you seen a boy,
so high, still in his festival robes…?”
Beyond the temple, Jerusalem simmered,
huge and hungry, strange, full of unknown faces,
piecing itself back together after the exit of the pilgrims.
Each day that passed the city closed itself
more completely to them,
until Joseph wanted to take it by the throat
and shake it until his son, like Jonah, fell out,
but who could get hands on this whale.
He was apparently invisible here,
wearing the dust of three days and nights in the street
in this sea washed place of the white robes and shifting currents,
wearing his need, carrying no sacrifice.
He wondered if he should have stopped to buy a dove?
He plucked at a passing robe.
“Rabboni, a boy, twelve years old, five days
ago we were here with the pilgrims—
a man I should say, his first sacrifice,
it made an impression, I could tell,
maybe he came back, maybe he is here?”
But the priest only gave him a cold stare and passed on.
“Can you help me?
Can someone, anyone,
please help me find my son?”
And so he wandered deeper, rounding corners
and the light from the surface fell upward above him,
and he wanted to just stop and let himself sink,
sink finally under the sea-weight into the stone.
And then, finally around a corner no different than any other,
a shaft of sun lit an inner courtyard
and a cluster of men on rising steps around.
He heard laughter, shattering the quiet of the temple,
voices contending, echoing, full of sharp thrust and parry,
full of the sound of splashing self-importance,
as the scholars played in the shallows at the edge of the sea,
and knew he had found the teachers of the law.
He almost passed right by, only caught,
in the corner of his eye, the tousled head among them,
only heard with a father’s ear the unfinished voice,
and the questions… those questions…
“But wasn’t the Sabbath made for man?
Why do you tie up God’s gift with so many ropes,
so many rules, only the rich can get at it?”
That could only be Y’shua…
Like a swimmer come at last to shore,
Joseph felt bottom and stood,
head above water for the first time in three days,
His son, when Joseph edged closer,
sat cross-legged in the center of the court,
scrolls of the law scattered about him,
and the teachers ranged above him on the benches and stairs,
leaning in, puzzled, slightly scandalized,
a few delighted, by this bright boy, beardless,
barely a man, who had come to question them on the law,
who wouldn’t, for that matter, take “no” for an answer,
who just kept coming back to:
“God is ‘yes,’ always ‘yes,’ never ‘no’!
That is the one true test of every law!”
“God says ‘you will,’ not ‘you should,’
and never, all by itself, ‘you won’t.’
If he says ‘you won’t,’ it is because,
in the hardness of our hearts,
that is all we can hear.
He has always already given us a ‘you will’ that should prevent us;
it is impossible, or ought to be, to do the ‘will’
and the ‘won’t’ at the same time and still be one man.
God is ‘yes,’ not ‘no’!”
“But…” “But…” “But…but…but…!”
The teachers stammered,
running over themselves with objection,
angry or laughing, thoughtful or contentious.
Joseph could barely suppress his own laugh
as he broke the circle to come to his son’s side
and fold himself down with a hand on Y’shua’s shoulder.
“My Father is not ‘but,’ either, is he?
He is all of one piece and accepts no exceptions.”
The boy turned his head slowly to meet
his father’s eye with a self-conscious smile.
Joseph turned to the teachers, stood and bowed.
“Forgive us, masters, but this is my son
who has been lost these last three days.
He is only young and knows no better.
His mother waits in the porch and we must go to her.”
And he pulled him up and steered him
out of the court into the shadowed hallway.
Joseph leaned in and whispered as they walked,
as they hurried, one conspirator to another,
“You must be careful my son.
They did not hear the “My Father” that time,
but they are not as deaf as you may think them.”
Joseph paused at the last doorway
out to the porch were Mary waited.
He turned Y’shua to him and looked him up and down.
He sighed. “And now…your mother.”
Mary came wailing from her corner
in a storm of dusty robes, sleeves and hems,
hood and veil, to wrap herself around Y’shua
and push him half back through the doorway.
Only Joseph’s sudden hand stopped her
from violating the sanctuary with her womanhood,
and he pulled them both back to safety
in the center of the porch.
Mary finally straightened, releasing Y’shua,
stepping back, gathering herself,
her relief hardening visibly into anger behind her eyes,
ready to strike, but Joseph forestalled her
with a hand gentle over her mouth.
“He is found.”
Anger faded to pain.
“Why, my son? Didn’t you know we would miss you?
Didn’t you think of our pain when we found you gone?
Didn’t you know we would look and worry and fear and grieve for you?
And here! To find you here!
She shuddered and almost fell,
seeing again the blood among the thorns of a woven crown,
snatching his hand turning the wrist as though she expected
to see it pierced, rubbing the whole skin with wonder.
And with wonder he answered.
“But mother, didn’t you know I would be
in My Father’s house, doing his business?
Where else in Jerusalem would I be?
Isn’t this why we came?
Why I came?”
And he turned and took it all in.
The money changers, the sellers of sacrifice
with their cages of doves and pens of lambs
without spot or blemish, the women waiting,
pressed to the screen that separated them forever
from the house of God…the sinners, the unclean,
clustered as close as they could come,
as close as they dared, to the hope
and healing they believed lay within.
And a great sadness took him, shook him,
threatened to sweep him away and drown him,
and he heard the sound of falling stone
and smelt the dust of broken rock,
the smoke of burning cedar,
saw the gold vessels pool at his feet to become plunder,
and shuddered to his soul, as though
it were he, himself, who had been broken.
“No, I am done here…for now.”
He took his mother’s hand,
and looked up to catch Joseph’s eye.
“Let’s go home.”
He could not ignore the springing hope in Mary’s eyes.
“For now, mother.