“Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Luke 2:48)

The boy was missing. It had been three days since his parents had last seen him. It was hard not to imagine the worst.

It all started when the family made the long trip to the big city to celebrate the holidays. They traveled there quite a number of friends and relatives. In the city, they feasted in the traditional ways; they attended the place of worship at the traditional time; and they took in various sights. Before they knew it, the holidays were over, and it was time to head home.

But you know how it is when you travel with a big group. It’s hard to keep track of everybody. If your children aren’t with you, you just figure they’re with friends and cousins in another outfit. At least that’s what the boy’s mother assumed. She and her husband traveled the whole day without a worry in the world. At the end of the day, however, they decided to look for their son and see how he was doing. They checked with one family, then another, then another, but nobody had seen the boy all day. He must have been left behind in the city.

So the mother and father turned around and headed back up the road as fast as they could go. All the way back they trembled at what might have happened to their son, and they wondered where to start looking first. They started in the place they’d been just before they left the city, but nobody there had seen the boy. They checked some places where kids might want to play or hang out, but nobody had seen the boy. They poked around in some of the city’s rough areas, fearing what they might learn, but nobody had seen the boy. Another entire day passed as the frantic search continued. Finally the mother thought of one last place they hadn’t checked yet. Sure enough, the boy was there. And he didn’t seem to have a worry in the world. He was having a great time and acting like everything was just fine.

The parents felt relieved that the boy was okay, but they were shocked that the boy seemed to think this was all perfectly normal. How could he behave this way? Didn’t he realize they’d been worried sick about him? His mother fretted, “How could you do this to us?”

But the boy replied that she shouldn’t be so upset. He said his parents should have known where he’d gone. His parents were confused. What was he talking about? Were they supposed to read his mind? What kind of boy was this? Still, he wasn’t being rude or disrespectful, and his parents couldn’t stay upset with him. They scratched their heads in bewilderment, and then they set out for home again, this time making sure the boy was with them. However, the mother never forgot that incident. She often thought about it as she tried to figure out that strange son of hers.

Maybe you recognize the story I’ve been telling. It’s about the boy Jesus and his mother Mary and his adopted father, Joseph. When Jesus was twelve, the family traveled with a large group to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. The Bible says,

After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:41-52).

Some of you listening to me are little. Was there ever a time when your parents lost track of you and couldn’t find you back again? That probably gave them a big scare, and it may have scared you too.

Or what about you teenagers? Do you ever stay out really late at night without letting your parents know where you are? When you finally get home, your parents are relieved, but they’re also upset. Maybe parents worry too much, but most likely it’s because they love you so much and want the best for you.

I remember the time our daughter wandered off in a crowded airport. One moment she was right behind my wife and me as we were standing in line waiting to board an airplane, and the next moment I turned around and she was gone. My wife and I began to dart and dodge our way through the people that huge airport. After several minutes of frantic searching, we saw someone walking toward us, holding our daughter’s hand. What a relief! I was so glad she was okay, and so mad at her for running off, that I didn’t quite know what to say. If you’re a mom or dad, you’ve probably had a similar experience at one time or another.

Losing a child for a few minutes or a few hours is scary enough–but losing a child for three days? You can see why Mary would be upset. Any normal mother would be upset after three days of frantic searching. You can also see why Mary and Joseph couldn’t really understand what Jesus was telling them when he talked about his Father’s house.  There was a lot about this twelve-year-old that was hard to figure out!

We’re celebrating Mother’s Day. It’s a great honor and privilege to be a mother, but it can also be confusing and difficult. That’s true for any mother, and it was especially true for Mary. Her son brought her greater joy than any child who ever lived, but he also brought her deeper sorrow than any child who ever lived. Mary was a great woman and a marvelous mother, but she didn’t always know exactly what to say to her son, and she didn’t understand everything about him. Jesus was a perfect child, but that didn’t make him an “easy child.”

Mary’s anxious search for her missing twelve-year-old led her to the temple of God. That incident was just one part of a larger search by Mary. As Mary watched the events of Jesus life unfold, she treasured these things in her heart, and she kept searching, searching, trying to understand her son and wondering how to conduct herself as his mother.

Now, Mary and Jesus are unique, of course. But the story of a mother’s search can teach us a lot about Jesus, and it can teaches mothers and fathers and children alot about themselves.

Mary was a mother who learned to be still in God’s presence and ponder the truth about her son Jesus. Mary was a mother who was constantly searching. Her search didn’t begin in the three anxious days of desperately looking for her twelve-year-old son, and it didn’t end when she found him in God’s temple. No, Mary’s life was a constant search. Years earlier an angel had told her that even though she was a virgin, she would become pregnant and give birth to a child who would be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Mary knew all this, but what could it mean? What would this child be like? What sort of mother should she be?

Mary had a lot to think about. Mary couldn’t forget how her unusual son was born in such an unusual place, a stable. She couldn’t forget how a group of shepherds she’d never met in her life came to the stable and bowed before the baby in the manger. The Bible says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She kept searching for their meaning.

As events unfolded, Mary had even more to ponder. She couldn’t forget taking the baby to the temple when he was just eight days old, and how an old man named Simeon took Jesus in his arms and looked at the baby and said, “Sovereign Lord … my eyes have seen your salvation.” She and Joseph marvelled at this, and then old Simeon told Mary that the child would cause many to fall and to rise, that many would speak against him, and he finished by telling Mary, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Something about this child would arouse fierce loyalty and fierce opposition. He would also bring more joy and more pain to Mary than she could possibly imagine.

And Mary had still more to ponder. She couldn’t forget those rich, intelligent strangers from eastern countries who brought gifts to her little son. She couldn’t forget packing up everything in the night and fleeing to Egypt, all because her husband had a dream that King Herod wanted to kill their baby. Mary remembered these things and pondered them in her heart.

After they lived as refugees in Egypt for a while, old Herod died, and it became safe for the family to leave Egypt and move back to the land of Israel, to the town of Nazareth. By that time Jesus was moving past the toddler stage. Most likely some people in Nazareth despised Mary for having gotten pregnant before she married Joseph, but other than that, life was as close to normal as it ever got for the holy family. From that time till the time Jesus was twelve, the Bible says nothing about him except this: “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).

Then, at age twelve, Jesus gave his mother something else to ponder. He led Mary on another search, a literal, physical search, until she found him in the temple. When she challenged him, Jesus calmly responded that they should have known he had to be in his Father’s house. Mary and Joseph didn’t quite know what he meant, but that gave Mary one more thing about her son to treasure in her heart, something more to make her search for a deeper understanding of her son.

From that time until Jesus began his ministry as an adult, the Bible is silent, except to say that Jesus was obedient to his parents, and to emphasize again the marvelous way in which he continued to mature: “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”

I can’t think of anything a godly mother would want more for her child than this: his mind blossoming, his body developing, his relationship to God flourishing, and his personality drawing people to him. Mothering the Son of God was an awesome responsibility, but apparently Mary did her part very well. The boy Jesus obeyed his mother and father and learned from them and thrived under their care. Mary must have watched with joy and amazement as her son developed. She continued to ponder various things that happened and to see even in Jesus’ boyhood signs of his special identity and destiny. The fact that she was always searching and pondering doesn’t mean she didn’t know her son at all. Mary knew with certainty that her son was God’s Son. But  she kept searching to know him better and to treasure him more.

Like Mary, all of us need to treasure everything we know about Jesus in our heart and seek to understand him better. No matter how well we know Jesus, we’ll never have him figured out. All the events of Jesus’ life and his sayings recorded in the Bible are a collections of treasures that we need to examine and value and delight in and search through over and over again. Like Mary, the better we know Jesus, the more we will love him.

Mary’s example inspires to us focus on Jesus, and her example can also inspire us in another direction. Those of us who are parents should do in relation to each one of our own children what Mary did in relation to her son: ponder what is happening with a child, and search for signs of the child’s special identity and destiny in God’s plan. Of course Mary’s child was the Son of God in a unique way, but still, every mother should have a sense that her child is special. Every mother should be watching for signs of what makes her child special, and asking how she can help move the child toward God’s special purpose.

Many moms and dads watch eagerly for signs of great things in their children. When the baby is born, the parents see incredible good looks. When a little one starts to walk, the parents see an athlete. When the child starts to talk, the parents see a great orator. When the child scribbles with a crayon, the parents see an artist. And the parents are right! Physical development and language skills and creativity are miracles. Sure, these things also happen in millions of other children, but that doesn’t make them any less a miracle. Every smiling, walking, talking, playing child is a miracle of God. And the fact that the Son of God was once a child himself lifts children and childhood still higher.

The mother who is amazed at her child and sees something marvelous in him is much closer to the truth about that child than the neutral observer who sees the child as just one more kid. This neutral observer might say, “Oh, the mother feels the way she does just because she’s a proud parent. She’s all excited about her child–most parents feel that way about their kids. The fact is that most kids are ordinary, and they grow up to be ordinary. There’s really nothing special about most of them.” But that’s wrong! Even the most ordinary child is extraordinary, and part of a parent’s job is to feel a sense of wonder at the mystery of the child and to give the child a sense of being a one-of-a-kind creation of the living God himself.

When a child gets lost, the mother searches for him because she loves and values him so much. But even when a child isn’t physically lost, there’s much about the child that is still hidden. Every person is a mystery, and one thing a good mother does is to search for clues about who her child is and what God intends that child to become. As parents we may not always know whether a particular event is pointing to something more, but we have to be alert to that possibility and treasure up memories of our children the way Mary treasured up memories of Jesus.

Jesus’ parents were astonished when they found him in the temple. They saw how their son amazed the people around him with his insight. He was respectful enough to listen carefully to other people, and insightful enough to ask some very sharp and penetrating questions. By the way, if even the Son of God was willing to listen and ask questions, we’d be wise to do the same. At any rate, in the process of dialogue, Jesus offered sound answers and ideas of his own. The result, says the Bible, was that “everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). His parents were also astonished. They were amazed that even at this young age, Jesus was able to express such profound knowledge of God.

But there was also something that amazed and disturbed his parents: Jesus’ willingness to think for himself and to act on his own. He hadn’t just wandered off or been left behind by accident. He had deliberately left his family behind and had gone to the temple of God. Now, it’s all very nice if a twelve-year-old can hold his own with a group of respected professors, and it may be heartwarming to know that your child is super-smart and super-spiritual. But when he distances himself from his family and causes them anxiety, something is wrong, isn’t it?

Mary and Joseph were surprised that their son would treat them like that. But Jesus was surprised that they were surprised. He figured he was just doing what was normal and natural: going to the house of his heavenly Father, and drawing others closer to God as well. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

It was an awkward moment. A sword would pierce Mary’s soul most painfully in the future, when nails pierced her son’s flesh; but a sword also pierced Mary’s soul when Jesus was twelve, and he made it clear that he had a loyalty even higher than his loyalty to his parents, that he had a calling that could pull him away from them.

The mother-child relationship is a beautiful thing, a precious gift of God, but it is not the highest thing in life. Mary gave birth to Jesus and fed him and hugged him and helped him learn to walk and taught him many things, and Jesus loved his mother and obeyed her. But the love between Mary and Jesus could flourish only in the context of an even higher love: the love between Jesus and his Father in heaven. Jesus obeyed his mother only in the context of a higher obedience: his obedience to the will of his heavenly Father.

All of us who are parents need to keep in mind that no child is simply an extension of our own expectations and ambitions. All children have their own identity and calling. It can be painful when children get older and start making choices that we didn’t anticipate. It’s painful when they’re making bad choices, of course, but it can even be painful when they’re making good choices, choices that express their own awareness of God and of who he has called them to be. We parents may feel threatened when children starts thinking for themselves rather than letting us do the thinking for them, and we may feel even more threatened when their own relationship to God takes priority over their relationship to use.

As a boy, Jesus obeyed Mary and Joseph; and throughout his life, Jesus always loved his family; but he also made it clear that our ties to God are even more important than our ties to our parents. He showed this already as a twelve-year-old, and he made it even more clear as an adult. The Bible describes one occasion where Jesus was preaching, and

his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

Another time, says the Bible, Jesus was preaching, and “a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’

He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it'” (Luke 11:27-28).

It was a marvelous thing for Mary to nurse the infant Jesus. But it is even more marvelous to trust in Jesus. Family ties are wonderful, but the family is not an end in itself. It’s even more important to belong to the family of God, and according to Jesus, that happens when we hear the word of God and obey it.

I’d like to pray about that with you right now.


Father in heaven, thank you for Jesus and for his blessed mother, Mary. Thank you for sending your son, Jesus, to become one of us and reveal yourself to us and bring us back to yourself. Help us, dear Lord, to search to know you better each day. May we also, like Mary, see special signs of God at work in our children. Father, help each child to find his or her true identity through faith in you and to live as part of the family of God, listening to you and obeying you with joy, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.