Our Lady of Sorrows Project: 3rd Sorrow – The loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem

So far…

1st Sorrow – The Prophecy of Simeon
2nd Sorrow – The Flight into Egypt

Now we turn to…

The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:43–45)

In the Presentation, the Lord – the New Temple – comes to His Temple for the first time.

At Passover of His 12th year, He comes to His Temple for the Second Time.

So far I have tried to underscore in the first two offerings that Mary’s Sorrows were also shot through with joy.  Mary, humanity’s solitary boast, was not disturbed by passions in the way that we are.  Her deep commitment to the plan of God would have given her great confidence in the face of even catastrophic events.

And so, keep in mind that this 3rd Sorrow of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also the 5th Joyful Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary.

Mary and Joseph were pious and desirous to fulfill the Law.  So, just has they brought Christ to the Temple for his circumcision – when Mary heard Simeon’s prophecies about the piercing of her heart – now they have brought Christ to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the Law at Passover.  One can suppose that in this 12th year after the Lord’s Birth, she was still pondering that first visit to the Temple, the first shedding of His Blood, the ominous quality of Simeon’s words.

Luke describes what happened in chapter 2. Christ is 12.

Christ has gone in a caravan with his Holy Family up to Jerusalem for Passover.

Under the Law, at 13 years all boys were bound to go up to Jerusalem for Passover. However, this was often anticipated for mature boys. It is likely that this is the first time the Lord, the New Temple, has seen with more mature eyes the old Temple.

When they were to return to Nazareth, the caravan departed Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph believed that their Son was somewhere in the good sized group. Why wouldn’t He be? Try to imagine how responsible and diligent the Lord was. The caravan departs, but Our Lord “tarries” (hypomeno) in the Temple. After a day of travel Mary and Joseph figure out that Jesus not with them, so they rushed back to Jerusalem, no doubt seeking and inquiring along the way. They find him after three anxiety-filled days. They enter the Temple and see him where He tarried, with the learned scholars of Talmud and Mishna, engaged in questions and answers about interpretation of Scriptures.

The Greek “hypomeno” can mean “linger, tarry, stay back” or also, “persevere” especially in trials, “to bear ill treatment bravely”.

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Do you suppose that Mary and Joseph heard the Lord’s colloquy?  They wouldn’t have been surprised.  There is no support for this in Scripture, but I picture them finding the Lord amidst the scholars and both of them stopping and listening for a bit before interrupting during a stunned pause.

Remember… before Mary acts and speaks, she listens and ponders.  That’s her pattern in Scripture.

“How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Where were they in the Temple complex?  The sight of the Temple, after the simplicity of Nazareth, would have made an immense impression on the young Lord.  The Temple was literally clad with gold. Where there was no gold, it was brilliantly white. Before the Temple itself, within which was the Holy of Holies, was the Court with its great altar with four “horns” at the corners at the top of a huge stairway of 12 steps, below which was the place for slaughter. Only priests and Levites could enter there. Up these steps the priests would have pass the silver and gold basins with the blood of the Passover lambs to be thrown against the altar. The Temple faced East. To the East of the main Court, though the Nicanor Gate, was the Courtyard of the Women. To the North and South were buildings and gates, bounded by terraces. It would have been on one of these terraces that the young Jesus was found by Mary and Joseph amidst the Scripture scholars and theologians, “Doctors of the Law”, “nomikoi”. Babylonian Talmud says this is where the Sanhedrin and scholars gathered on sabbaths and during festivals. Hence, because this is still the festive time following the Passover, this is where He was discovered and where He spoke the first words of His that are recorded in Scripture.

The Lord is 12. He has now seen the slaughter of the lambs as the Psalms were sung and how they were then prepared in cruciform for roasting. The Lord’s human intellect and memory are learning in human ways, but they are informed by His divine nature. Having experienced His first Passover, His thoughts have turned from His earthly family to His Father’s House, the Temple, with which He, the New Temple, thrummed in the resonance of fulfillment. So powerful was the Passover and experience of the Temple that He left His earthly family and tarried there.

To get something of the anxious sorrow of Mary, remember that Jesus was daily with Mary and Joseph, hardly apart for any length of time in their flight from Herod, in Egypt, on the road home and in daily life. Suddenly, for the first time, the Boy whom the murderous Herod had hunted is missing. St Alphonsus of Liguori, writing of this Sorrow of Mary, said,

“He who is born blind is little aware of the pain of being deprived of the light of day; but to him who has once had sight and enjoyed the light, it is a great sorrow to find himself deprived of it by blindness.

In The World’s First Love, Fulton Sheen wrote:

“Mary lost Jesus only in mystical darkness of the soul, not in the moral blackness of an evil heart. Her loss was a veiling of His face, not a flight. But she does teach us that, when we lose God, we must not wait for Him to come back. We must go out in search of Him; and, to the joy of every sinner, she knows where He can be found!”

Because they were seeing the events only as if through a glass, darkly, Mary and Joseph sought Jesus with anxiety. Perhaps they worried that He was dead, as any parent might.

They find Him, after three portentous days, foreshadowing the Resurrection.  As Ambrose wrote, “He who was believed dead for our faith would rise again after three days from his triumphal passion and appear on His heavenly throne with divine honor” (Exp. Luc. 2.63).  Christ had, at a triumphant 12, has gone up to Jerusalem. There is a passion in his loss.  He is found “seated” among the elders who were honoring Him for His questions.

Christ speaks about “my Father’s House” even as Joseph regards Him in the full sight of the great men of Jerusalem. Mary hears His words, perhaps checking Joseph’s reaction. There is joy in the finding of the Lord, of course, just as parents rejoice in finding a child whom they thought was lost. This is the 5th Joyful Mystery, after all.

But any human heart, even the Immaculate Heart of this Mother, would have twinged a bit with these words.  They had some sense of what must someday befall her Child. This has been Mary’s constant consideration to ponder, since her encounter, here, with Simeon and during their sojourn in Egypt.

Finally, in the Lucan account, Mary pondered it all: “His mother kept all these things in her heart.”

Joyful Sorrow… Sorrowful Joy.

A Prayer of St. Alphonsus:

Oh Blessed Virgin, why art Thou afflicted, seeking Thy lost Son? Is it because Thou dost not know where He is? But dost Thou not know that He is in Thy Heart? Dost Thou not see that He is feeding among the lilies? Thou Thyself hast said it: “My beloved to me and I to Him who feedeth among the lilies.” These, Thy humble, pure, and holy thoughts and affections, are all lilies, that invite the Divine Spouse to dwell with Thee. Ah, Mary, dost Thou sigh after Jesus, Thou who lovest none but Jesus?

Leave sighing to me and so many other sinners who do not love Him, and who have lost Him by offending Him. My most amiable Mother, if through my fault Thy Son hast not yet returned to my soul, wilt Thou obtain for me that I may find Him. I know well that He allows Himself to be found by all who seek Him: “The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him.” Make me to seek Him as I ought to seek Him. Thou art the gate through which all find Jesus; through Thee I too hope to find Him.

4th Sorrow – Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Benedict Joseph says:

    These reflections you are providing, Father, are profound, enriching and very much appreciated.

  2. Laurelmarycecilia says:

    I occurs to me that when even the Dearest Blessed Mother ‘lost’ Jesus, didn’t have the security that comes from the sight of Him or of hearing His voice, and thinking she has lost Him….where did she find Him? She found Him in the Temple (read Holy Roman Catholic Church) expounding to the Rabbis (doctrine) So when we don’t have spiritual consolations and think Him lost to us, find Him in the Church and in His Doctrine as proclaimed by His Church using a higher part of our nature, the intellect……. just a thought from a nobody

  3. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you Fr. Z.

  4. Tamara T. says:


    Benedict Joseph, above, wrote just what I was thinking. Thank you so much for giving us these reflections. I had never thought about these sorrows in this way.

  5. bartlep says:

    The Miles Christi Religious Order has a special devotion to the Mater Dolorosa and pray the Rosary of the Mater Dolorosa on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. I am going to print all these reflections and put them into a folder.

    Thank you so much.

  6. Imrahil says:

    Thanks for the reflections.

    Why, by the way, did they think he was somewhere in the group? Didn‘t the family walk together?

    According to a well-known explanation, women and men marched separately. So, our Lady thought „he‘s an adult now, he‘s with the men“; and St. Joseph thought „after all, he‘s still young, he‘ll be with his mother.“

  7. Pingback: Our Lady of Sorrows Project: 2nd Sorrow – The Flight into Egypt | Fr. Z's Blog

  8. Pingback: Our Lady of Sorrows Project: 4th Sorrow – Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary | Fr. Z's Blog

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