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JESUS: How did the parents miss the boy Jesus on their return trip from the Temple?

How did the parents of Jesus happen to overlook the absence of the boy Jesus on their return trip? Was it sheer negligence on the part of Joseph and Mary, or perhaps of Jesus?

The evangelist does not offer any clarity on this. Apparently, once the Holy Family reached the Temple, Jesus moved about independently. Since Jesus had officially reached adulthood, Joseph and Mary gave him freedom to move around by himself or with his friends. He was interested in spending time with the religious scholars who were teaching the pilgrims on the Temple premises. “Many people shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’ For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isa 2:3).

On the last day of the feast also, the Holy Family visited the crowded Temple before their departure. Even then, Jesus went to the teachers of the Law as before. The return journey of Joseph and Mary was also with the same pilgrims from Nazareth as a caravan. Joseph was travelling with a group of men and Mary with the women, even as the teenagers and youth enjoyed each other’s company in the caravan. So, the parents thought Jesus was with his friends from Nazareth or with one of them. Notably, mishaps of separation of children from their parents was normal in the crowded feast at Jerusalem.

The possibility of the mishap was: While Joseph and Mary were packing to return from Jerusalem, Jesus might have been with them. The parents let him go with his friends along with the caravan. When the caravan started from the Temple, the parents did not pay attention to Jesus presuming that he was in the company of the travelers, especially other teenagers from their native place. Walking in groups from Jerusalem, reaching Nazareth could take four to six days, depending upon their speed. Only when they came for an overnight stay after a one-day journey, the parents realized Jesus was missing. He was immersed in listening to and questioning the religious teachers on their interpretations of the Law different from the truth. He was interested in how they interpret the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Only late in the afternoon he might have realized his parents had already left without him. With no worry, he stayed at the same lodge where Joseph and Mary remained during the feast days and continued worshipping and conversing with the teachers in the Temple.

Joseph and Mary were worried about the absence of Jesus in the caravan that comprised the villagers from Nazareth and neighboring villages. The parents searched for Jesus among the relatives and friends who were travelling in different groups or encamping in different tents or lodges.


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