The Curiosity of Jesus

The mind of Jesus as a child was curious and seeking. He felt love grow in his heart and seek expression. There was wonder in his eyes and this wonder made many around him see the possibility of good— something good could happen, something good was present, someone might produce a gift for others through their actions or through their words. His smile was an expression of joy and an expression of knowing, especially in those moments when he felt the pain or suffering found in the life around him. Though he was sometimes cautious, he did not fear anyone or anything. This sense of wonder was part of his presence as an adult. Jesus would greet others and anticipate discovering their gifts.

But the mind of Jesus also reflected his human conditions. In the beginning of his life he was subject to the ideas presented to him by Mary and Joseph. Like all children, he was influenced by the things his parents presented to him as “good” or “bad” and his behavior was moderated by the expectations of his parents. Jesus was taught the things that other Hebrew boys and adolescents were taught.

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 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.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (Luke 2:41-52)

There is a tendency to think of this episode—where Jesus is missing from the group of travelers and is found in the temple and where the teachers are astounded at his answers—as emblematic of the mature teachings of Jesus. But in this instance we see Jesus as reciting the law as it was taught to him. His understanding was just beginning and his questions were what surprised the teachers.

Like many developing souls, Jesus was moving from blind obedience toward an understanding of spiritual obedience. His sense of obedience was tested or challenged because he—like many adolescents— noticed the differences between the law and the behavior of humans, so he questioned it; but at this early age he had not developed, nor expressed the understanding that is revealed later in his parables and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). Here we would say that Jesus is learning the ways that his culture was conditioning his behavior and the behavior of his parents. Instantly Jesus saw that in spite of spiritual goodness and devotion to the law, that suffering and inequality were experienced and expressed everywhere around him. This “divinely delivered law” has inconsistencies and is subject to the emotions and prejudices of human beings. At this early stage in his development, he sees God—as he was trained by his culture—as outside of himself, in the temple, or present at the temple, and absent from other places in the world. He is disturbed and feels unsettled because his intuition tells him these representations of God are wrong, but he has not developed his own understanding of God and God’s movement in the world or through human beings.