Lk. 2:40-41 As a child, Jesus grows in wisdom and in stature, close to God and popular with all those he meets. Every year, his parents follow the Jewish custom of going up to Jerusalem for a religious festival. They live too far away to visit Jerusalem three times a year, but always manage to get there for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the ‘Passover Festival’) (see Exodus 23:14-17) and Jesus no doubt goes with them.
Lk. 2:42-43 As in Jesus’s day, Jewish boys are traditionally considered to become adults at the age of thirteen – when they become a ‘Bar Mitzvah’ (a son to whom the commandments apply). They become responsible for their own actions, and play a full role in Jewish religious ceremonies. They are usually invited to read publicly from the Jewish scriptures, having been taught Hebrew as a child at their local synagogue.
Just before his thirteenth birthday, in c.7AD, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem, as usual, with his family for the Passover festival, and soon becomes totally engrossed in discussing the Jewish scriptures with the teachers in the Temple courts. It’s quite possible that Jesus celebrates his thirteenth birthday during the Passover festival (see the feature on Beit Sahur earlier in this section for a discussion on the date of Jesus's birthday). It’s quite normal for a Jewish boy like Jesus to be invited to read the scriptures in public on his thirteenth birthday, but the rabbis are amazed and fascinated by the maturity of Jesus’s questions and his understanding of the Jewish law.
Colonnaded porticoes on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Luke 2:46)
Lk. 2:44-52 When it’s time to leave after the festival, Mary and Joseph travel a whole day before realising that Jesus isn’t with their relatives and friends from Nazareth. The women and children (who travel more slowly) set off before the men, and when the men catch up with them later in the day, Jesus’s absence is noticed. Jesus had travelled with Mary and the other children on previous occasions, but as he is fast approaching manhood, Mary probably assumes that he is travelling with Joseph and the other men.
Eventually, Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the courtyards of the Temple in Jerusalem, and are astonished when he says to them “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jewish parents would have been surprised to hear that a lively teenager was so keen to spend time discussing his heavenly Father’s words with the teachers in the Temple.
The spot where Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus was missing on the journey home is believed to be the town of Al-Bireh near Ramallah, a full day’s journey north of Jerusalem. The site is marked today by the Church of the Holy Family, a church built by the Crusaders in the 12th century.