Where on Earth?

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” – Luke 2:46-48

One day lost. He’s with Uncle. Or Auntie’s taken charge.

Two days lost. One day outward, one day back,
and no way to decrease the time. Messengers
from Marathon we’re not.

Three days now. Scour the inn, the streets
around the inn, the streets around the streets.
“Come child, have you seen my child today?
Or yesterday? Come child, speak quickly now!
If you do not, I must find one who knows.”

“He wouldn’t, would he?” “Oh, I think he would.”
The Temple. Right. Of all the places. Yes, he would.
Too tired to race, we clamber up the rising streets,
to gain the shadow of the outer courts,
the bustle of the moneychangers, cooing of
the doves, the lowing from the cattle stalls.

Around a corner, round a corner, take this bend.
We’d ask a guard, but visitors from Galilee
might get an answer from a backhand slap,
or worse, we’d get our son arrested.

The teachers and the scribes assemble in
these knots of deep discussion, picking at
the tangle of the faithful life, unbraiding it
to see if might be new woven into
tapestry, or if we make new knots
unweaving what was woven once.

Ah, there! We hear the piping voice, not
a grey-capped head, but a headstrong boy.
We stride, relieved, but fear’s receding wave
has left revealed parental wrath.
“Now, child,” (don’t jostle the Great Men)
“How could you do this thing to us?”

And he, still thinking like a scholar and a scribe,
returns a question to the question –
a tactic he will anger many people with some day –
“Where did you think I’d be but in my Father’s house?”

Quick glances pass between us, with a common thought,
a memory of angel’s promises,
of ragged shepherds claiming to have heard a song,
and marveling to this child in his feeding trough,
a memory of aged sages praising him
in this same temple all those years ago.

Well. First, we thought he’d be with us.
And then we thought he’d be with relatives
who’d come with us to celebrate the Passover.
And then we thought he’d still be at the inn
where we had stayed, or with the children of
the neighborhood, or not too far away.

And, child, if you ask, “Where would I be
but in my Father’s house?” then I shall ask
(and see, you’re not the only one
to answer questions with a question), “Son,
what is your Father’s house? Does God
live in this Temple, shining though it does,
with prayers and incense rising in the air?
Oh, no, your Father’s house is wider than
the world. Your parents find no clue
to finding you by knowing you are in
‘your Father’s house.'”

But we are too distressed with fading fear
and overwhelming joy to say such things.
We murmur “Thank you,” to the smiling scribes
and gather up our budding scholar in
our arms. Once more we’ll take the road
to Nazareth and home, and treasure what
we’ve heard within our hearts.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 2:41-52, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, First Sunday after Christmas.

The image is Jesus retrouvé dans le temple (Jesus Found in the Temple) by James Tissot (between 1886 & 1894) – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2007, 00.159.41_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10195808.

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