That the twelve-year-old Jesus clearly knew the Law and the Prophets is evident in the fact that the learned men even bothered listening to the child. However, it is unlikely that they would have spent three whole days putting up with any child – no matter how cute – if all he could do was repeat what everyone already knew. There must have been something familiar about what this child was saying, and yet something astonishingly new enough to hold their attention. Admittedly, as a child, Jesus spent his time “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46), but it would later be said of Him in His adult ministry: “He taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29). What is old in Christ’s teaching is evident enough; He Himself says: “think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). He is firmly rooted in the truth by which the Father has led His people from the very beginning, but that which is new makes Him unique throughout all of human history.
When Christ interacts with the same teachers of the Law later in His life, the most common point of contention is about the observation of the Sabbath. When Jesus heals on the holiest day of the Jewish week, or when His disciples pick grain to eat, the learned men rebuke Him for breaking one of the most important customs of Israel’s religious life. The Sabbath is a sign of God’s covenant with His people which goes all the way back to Moses and the third of the Ten Commandments. Christ’s response to those who criticize Him is that “the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). Until the Incarnation, the Sabbath was holy and a form of worship because by observing it, the people of God imitated Him. As God rested on the seventh day of creation, so the people rested on the Sabbath. As the command was passed down in the holy word of the Law, so the people hallowed themselves by obedience to the Law. But Christ, truly God and truly man, fulfills every promise of Scripture in an unforeseen way. Christ is the new Sabbath, the sign of the new covenant and the new mode of our imitation of God. Christ is the new Word, revealed not just in books but in flesh and blood. We are not called to blind obedience of a text, but to conform our lives to the life of a real person who lived in a specific time and place. When we live like Him, He lives in us, and becomes incarnate anew in the world through us.
The three days which Jesus spent in the Temple are the first indication in His earthly life of the new unity between Word and Flesh, God and Man. When He asks His mother “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49), He hints to Mary and to us that He has come to fulfill the work His Father had begun with Adam and Eve. He comes to renegotiate our relationship with Him. By the shedding of His own blood, He wins for us a share in His Sonship with God eternal. When we meditate on this mystery, let us renew our commitment to worship God by following the new Law written on our hearts: Christ.
-Br. Antony Augustine Cherian, O.P.
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