Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

See the general introduction to Luke.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Luke.

The world of the text

The narrative of the boy Jesus at the Temple is the only passage we have which shows Jesus as a child. Whether there is a basis in history for Luke recollection or not, the narrative is often referred to as a summary story. The Gospel in its early use would have been read out loud to the audience: the placement of summary stories kept the audience up to speed, they anticipated what was to come. 

In this passage, Jesus is 12… and in Jerusalem. It is Passover and he is in debate with temple leaders. He will be lost for three days before being found….

Text & textual features

The text has a clear narrative structure:-

The orientation: 

The family are in Jerusalem for Passover, one of the three pilgrimage festivals. Jesus is 12 years old. Whilst the barmitzvah celebrations that we are familiar with now were not in place in Jesus’ lifetime, are we to read the mention of his age as an indication of his maturity or as an allusion to the tribes of Israel…Jesus encompasses them all. 

Traditionally, there were three pilgrimage festivals:

1.     Passover (Pesach)

2.     Pentecost (Shavuot)

3.     Tabernacles (Sukkot)

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was one most first century Jews took annually for Passover.  Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have walked the 129km from Nazareth to Jerusalem – about a marathon a day for 3 days there and 3 days return.  As the story tells us, they were travelling with a larger group of relatives and friends (v 44).  Only men had to go, so Mary’s presence shows her commitment.  

The Complication: Jesus goes missing

Passover observance lasts for eight days (Leviticus 23:5-6). Pilgrims are not obligated to stay for the full eight days, but many did.  This story indicates that they stayed the full time – ‘when the festival had ended… they started to return’ (v. 43).

Groups attending the Passover did so in large groups made up of people from neighbouring towns. At a literal level it would not be unusual then that as they returned home, the children would play and be together, the women with the women and the men with the men. However, the notion of Jesus remaining at the temple and being found 3 days later is too reminiscent of the resurrection to be ignored. 

The Resolution: Jesus is found in the Temple

Jesus is found in the temple “sitting amongst the teachers asking them questions” (v. 47).  Contrary to the story we often tell, Luke’s words do not imply Jesus teaching those he is with…  “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (v. 47).  Jesus was certainly interacting, but to suggest he was leading the conversation is likely not correct.

When Mary and Joseph find Jesus, her response is again is very understandable at a literal level: “why have you treated us like this” (v. 48). However, at a symbolic level, Luke’s community know that just as the disciples would later not be able to understand (Luke 9:44-45; 17:25; 18:31-34), just as the religious leaders would not understand, Mary and Joseph too fail to understand (v. 50).  

Jesus leaves and is ‘obedient’ to his parents – is this a play on words having just spent time with his father? – where he grows in wisdom and divine favour (v. 52).  This is perhaps the first pointer towards the greater call that will interrupt their family life and where they are being asked to let go of Jesus.’

Characters & Setting


for Luke the centre of faith. From here Jesus will die and rise again, from here the new community will travel to the ends of the earth. 


It is worth noting in this story Luke doesn’t use the titles of “Mary” or “Joseph”, just parent and ‘mother’ and ‘father’.  This really helps to emphasise the point that why would anyone be surprised that Jesus was found in his ‘Father’s’ house. 

Ideas/ phrases/ concepts

3 days 

The story notes that Mary and Joseph were quite anxious about Jesus’ whereabouts, but after 3 days they found him.  The three-day timeline matters to the biblical narrative because it is the special day on which God creates new life and activates his covenant with humanity. This understanding is drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures as well as Jonah 1:17 (Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for 3 days).  Hosea (6:1-2)noted God’s resurrecting work for Israel as occurring on the third day. While these are worthy texts to consider, this pattern of resurrection on the third day begins even earlier in the story.  The creation story in Genesis 1 has new life appearing on day 3 and God is revealed at Mount Sinai on the third day.  Then there is the obvious New Testament example of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day (a story that at this time is yet to come).

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today/challenges

As Luke’s story unfolds, Joseph recedes from the story. Mary lives in the reflective way we are all called to live, “storing all these things in her heart”. Sometimes God’s call to children and young people is in tension with parents’ wishes or hopes. Children are first “children of God”. Much as we might like, we cannot hold on to them or hold them back. We try to understand and respect their choices, we nurture their uniqueness, and we pray that they too will grow in wisdom and stature.

The reading could also be considered in calling us out of our comfort zone.  What does God call each of us to?  Do we stretch ourselves or stay in a safe place, never straying too far from what is familiar?

Church interpretation

Pope Francis has often used images of the Holy Family but particularly so as part of the Year of the Family, focussing on Amoris Laetitia of which this story has been a partIn his homily on the feast of the Holy Family in 2017, he offers support to families in saying:

Children’s growth is a great joy for the family, we all know it. They are destined to grow and become strong, to acquire knowledge and receive the grace of God, just as happened to Jesus. He is truly one of us: the Son of God becomes a child, agrees to grow, to become strong; he is filled with knowledge, and the grace of God is upon him. Mary and Joseph have the joy of seeing all this in their son; and this is the mission to which the family is directed: to create conditions favourable to the harmonious and full growth of its children, so they may live a good life, worthy of God and constructive for the world.

Pope Francis
(Francis, 2017)

Liturgical Usage

This reading is used as a part of the readings for the Feast of the Holy Family celebrated on the Sunday between Christmas Day and January 1st.  It is used alongside:  Sirach 3:2–6, 12-14,
Psalm 128:1–5 and Colossians 3:12–21.