Posted in reflections

Jesus, boy wonder (Luke 2:41-52)

The familiar stories of Jesus’s birth (Luke 2:1-20) and his presentation at the Temple (2:21-38) lead into the only account that we have from his boyhood. [David Neale, in The New Beacon Bible Commentary (Luke 1-9, p. 84), alludes to a pair of apocryphal stories, including palm trees that bow to Mary on her way to Bethlehem, or a young Jesus making clay pigeons with his friends, and bringing them to life.] This Temple episode of the boy Jesus sitting and holding his own with the teachers of the Jewish Law foreshadows his later ministry as a teacher of the Law unlike any other.

A family story

The 1976 Nazarene General Assembly in Dallas, Texas, will always live in my memory as the time I nearly lost two brothers. In a crowd of thousands, Jay (6) and Chad (5) wandered away from us. The details remain sketchy, but in this pre-cell phone era, it had something to do with two carefree little boys wanting ice cream. When Mom and Dad realized they were missing, word went out to everyone we saw: Jay and Chad are missing! A family friend hours later corralled them riding up-and-down the elevators in the now defunct Baker Hotel. Reunited, our parents had some choice words for them: “We’ve been so worried about you! Where have you been? Why did you wander away?”


I think of the justified anxiety etched on Mom’s and Dad’s face every time I read Luke 2:48, the story of a lost boy at a different religious gathering, the annual Jewish Passover. Unlike our family drama in Dallas, Jesus was not just missing for a few hours, but for three days (v. 46). Finally, someone must have said: “I saw Jesus in the Temple talking with the teachers.” Luke picks up the story:

“When Mary and Joseph saw Him, they were bewildered; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have your treated us this way? Behold, Your Father and I have been anxiously looking for You!’ ”

Jesus replied (v. 49): “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”

There’s the hint of annoyance in the boy’s response, and Luke later takes pains to note that the youthful Jesus “continued to be subject to them” (2:51). Yet his future adult mission would take him far away from family, a mission that caused family strains. (See, for example, Luke 8:19-21). Jesus’s statement – “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49) – confounded them. This was not just any Jewish boy. This was a boy wonder, and they didn’t understand (v. 50).


The Japanese proverb warns: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.” Like Jesus received the “hammer” from Mary and Joseph when they found him in the Temple, I wonder what children today “stick out” and risk getting our collective hammer?

  • Respect intellectually gifted children. There’s pressure in the classroom from peers to “throttle back,” to not “make others look bad.” As the Church, do we encourage the “young Sheldons” among us, or do we squelch them? What will it mean for our brightest children to love God with all their minds? (Luke 10:27)
  • Help youth discover their gifts. Jesus may have been a decent carpenter, but he became an extraordinary Rabbi. For our children to discover their God-given purpose free of inherited family expectations, we must provide the latitude for them to explore widely, to try (and fail) at numerous things until they succeed and shine at one or two. Is it kind or cruel in the long run to pretend a child is gifted as a singer or athlete when truth-be-told they’re mediocre at best? We can gently redirect them to other areas, helping them explore where they do have genuine ability that they can joyfully develop to a high level. After all, talent comes in many shapes and sizes.

What other applications do you see from the story of Jesus, boy wonder?


Note: All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (Lockman, 2020).

Image credit

Frabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

2 thoughts on “Jesus, boy wonder (Luke 2:41-52)

  1. Greg,
    Interesting apocryphal story on our family, one which I wasn’t privy to as I had already headed out of the home and was off to college!
    Thank you for nuancing well the story of Jesus at the Temple. One of the accretions that has crept into church is that Jesus was “teaching” the elders, when Scriptures makes it clear he was listening and asking questions.
    Your point is well taken about our need to encourage our children to pursue the areas that they are gifted in. A minefield we need to avoid, however, is to avoid attributing more value to children who exhibit extraordinary gifting in whatever domain–academic, athletic, etc. It’s a fine line to walk, I know.
    Good post!

    1. Thanks, Dave, for the positive feedback. I didn’t realize that the GA story from Dallas in ’76 hadn’t been retold at family reunions. I guess it didn’t make the “canon” but I assure you it’s still true. Regarding gifting, if we valued the teaching gift as much as we valued athleticism, school teachers would be making $ 3,000,000 annually and basketball players would be pulling down 50K. Thinking about the boy Jesus listening and asking questions in the Temple…It’s instructive to note the high value that Judaism to this day places upon those who can study and teach Scripture. I wonder if Christianity accords the same value to that gifting?

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