St Luke’s gospel is the only one to include any details of the childhood of Christ. This is probably because he spoke to the Virgin Mary, who shared her memories of the Child Jesus with him.
The main story he tells is of Christ’s disappearance during a family trip to Jerusalem – and of being discovered later in the Temple. The episode actually tells us a lot – about the faith of the Holy Family, their closeness to their relatives and above all, about the future of Christ’s life and death.
Each year, the Virgin Mary and St Joseph took Jesus on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Only St Joseph was actually required by the Law of Moses to do this (cf Exodus 23:14-17). The fact that Mary and Jesus went along too speaks to the deep faith of the Holy Family.
On one of these occasions, when Christ was twelve, they travelled to Jerusalem as usual. After the festival was over, Mary and Joseph set out on the return journey to Nazareth with a large group of relatives and friends. Such was their trust in their relatives that they believed that the Child Jesus was somewhere among the group. It’s likely that the men and women travelled separately, which led to the confusion.
However, after a day’s journey they looked for him among the group – only to discover he was not there. A frantic search then began and they returned in panic to Jerusalem. As St Luke tells us: “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46).
When his mother asked Jesus why he had behaved that way, upsetting both her and St Joseph, he responded: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49) These are the first recorded words of Christ. His answer reveals both his sense of duty to God and his close relationship with his Heavenly Father.
Further, Pope St John Paul II once reflected on the hidden message of this event, which took place immediately after the Passover. He said: “Through this episode, Jesus prepares his Mother for the mystery of the Redemption. During those three dramatic days when the Son withdraws from them to stay in the temple, Mary and Joseph experience an anticipation of the triduum [three-day period] of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.”
This is because Christ died during the feast of the Passover then rose to life three days later. As the pope also remarked: “Letting his Mother and Joseph depart for Galilee without telling them of his intention to stay behind in Jerusalem, Jesus brings them into the mystery of that suffering which leads to joy, anticipating what he would later accomplish with his disciples through the announcement of his Passover.”
The scene is known in art as ‘Christ among the Doctors’ because ‘Doctor’ is a traditional title for a teacher. This window telling the story is found within the sanctuary of Christchurch Priory in Eltham. It was created in 1954 by the studio of the Irish artist Harry Clarke, who continued his artistic legacy after his death. It’s typical of his artistic style, with the use of bold lines and deep colours.
The stained glass scene is part of a set of five windows, each illustrating one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. The windows, which surround the sanctuary, were installed in memory of parishioners who fell during the Second World War. While they all keep the Arts and Crafts tradition of Harry Clarke alive, this example is one of the best preserved.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
Christchurch Priory, Eltham
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