The finding of Jesus is both a terrible scene to imagine and a wonderful scene. Terrible in that, were I Christ’s mother, I would be absolutely terrified that I lost Jesus. I can’t even imagine the grief that the Virgin Mary and Joseph must have felt in that position! And then to lose Him for three days, as a child, must have been a nerve-wracking experience.
And yet, I think that would also be wonderful because, once they found Jesus, they find Him where He ought to be: the Temple. There, they both get a glimpse of God in His role as a judge, as they heard Him talking with the doctors of the Temple.
The gospel describes the scene as such:
41Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 42and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. 43After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” 49And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
And so for today, I would like to share one of the most epic depictions of this scene, by Panini:
In the midst of a grand scene which resembles a cathedral of Rome, Jesus, as a child, stands and talks with the scribes of the Temple. Many of them are examining their scrolls in amazement of while he speaks with them. There are many fingers pointed to show their astonishment with the scene.
And in the background, in the smallest archway, almost too tiny to be seen, are the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, looking into the scene, bewildered. Look for the figure wearing pink with a blue cloak standing with an older man who has a gray beard, if you are having a hard time spotting them.
It is a grand scene set in a grand place, and no wonder: in addition to being a religious painter, Panini had studied perspective and architecture in Rome and his hometown of Piacenza, even working as architect later in his life. He had an eye for these architectural details that many other painters might have missed, as well as a vision for the grandiose. He also was pretty grounded in the Church: in his youth, before he started painting, his parents prepared for a career in the Church.
While this scene is not realistic, as it uses Roman elements of architecture to depict the Jewish Temple, the Jewish Temple was grandiose in its own way. It’s likely that both the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph were overwhelmed, not only with joy to find Jesus after a long three day search, but also overwhelmed by the grandeur of the Temple.
Especially when they see Jesus speaking with so much authority in the midst of it all, stealing the scene so that the grandeur of the Temple seems second-rate compared to Him.
And so it is fitting that this scene is so impressive to us, even now! For it reminds us to tread gently on the sacred ground of our Churches — after all, Jesus is there in our Church today!
This blog is part of a blog series about meditations of the Rosary, in honor for October, which is the month dedicated to the Rosary! This artwork, as well as many others, are available in my book, The Joyful Mysteries, which allows you to pray the Rosary prayer by prayer, with each prayer illustrated with gorgeous religious art. If you would like to learn more about the books, click here!