Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Origen of Alexandria
“They found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions” (Lk: 2:46)
When Jesus was twelve years old, he stayed behind in Jerusalem. Not knowing this, his parents sought him anxiously, but did not find him. Though they searched the whole caravan, looking for him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances, he was nowhere to be found.
It was his own parents who were looking for him—the father who had brought him up and cared for him when they fled into Egypt—and even they did not find him at once. This shows that Jesus is not found among relatives and acquaintances, nor among those bound to him by physical ties. We do not find him in a crowd. Let us learn where it was that Joseph and Mary discovered him; then in their company we too shall be able to find him.
They found him, scripture says, in the temple. Not just anywhere, but in the temple; and not just anywhere in the temple, but among the doctors, listening to them and asking them questions.
And so we too must look for Jesus in the temple of God; we must look for him in the Church, among the doctors who belong to the Church and are faithful to its teaching. If we seek him there, we shall find him.
Moreover, anyone who claims to be a doctor without possessing Christ is a doctor in name only; Jesus, the Word and Wisdom of God, will not be found with him.
They found him, then, “sitting among the doctors,” or rather not merely sitting, but learning from them and listening to them. At this very moment Jesus is present among us too, questioning us and listening to us speaking. It is further written, “And they were all amazed.”
What caused their astonishment? Not his questions—though these were certainly extraordinary—but his answers. He questioned the doctors, and since they could not always give an answer, he himself replied to his own questions.
These replies were not mere disputation, but real teaching, exemplified for us in holy scripture where the divine law declares: “Moses spoke, and God answered him.” In this way the Lord instructed Moses about those matters of which he was ignorant.
So it was that sometimes Jesus asked questions, sometimes he answered them; and, as we have already said, wonderful though his questions were, his replies were even more wonderful.
In order, therefore, that we too may be his hearers and that he may put to us questions which he himself will then answer, let us pray to him earnestly, seeking him with great effort and anguish, and then our search will be rewarded.
Not for nothing was it written: “Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” The search for Jesus must be neither careless nor indifferent, not must it be only a transitory affair. Those who seek in this manner will never find him.
We must truly be able to say: “We have been looking for you anxiously”; if we can say this then he will reply to our weary and anxious soul in the words: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
On Luke’s Gospel 18, 2-5: GCS 9, 112-113
Origen (183-253), one of the greatest thinkers of ancient times, became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria at the age of eighteen. In 230 he was ordained priest by the bishop of Caesarea. His life was entirely devoted to the study of scripture and he was also a great master of the spiritual life. His book On First Principles was the first great theological synthesis. Many of his works are extant only in Latin as a result of his posthumous condemnation for heterodox teaching. Nevertheless, in intention he was always a loyal son of the Church.
Edith Barnecut, OSB
**From Saint Louis University