We Still Find Him in the Temple

Mary and Joseph were at their wits end.  After three days of searching, they had finally found Jesus.  There he was, seated in the Temple’s second court, asking questions of the rabbis.  Mary blurted out, “Son, why have you done this to us?  You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow.”  His answer caught them completely off-guard, “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:48-50). Jesus says exactly the same thing to those of us hungering for his presence today! He waits for us in the temple of our parish church.

The Catechism (593) reminds us how deeply Jesus loved the Temple of his day. It was adamat-qodesh, holy ground. God was present in the Temple’s innermost chamber in a way unsurpassed anywhere else in all of creation, except in Jesus himself. It was the only place where sacrifice could lawfully be offered and, like all faithful Jews, Jesus made pilgrimage there at least three times a year.

In the New Covenant, Jesus takes all of this to a higher level.  The Temple prefigured him, in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Through Baptism he makes us members of his Church, “living stones” in the spiritual temple of his Body (1 Pet 2:5). The many sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple found their fulfillment in his one upon the cross, the same sacrifice renewed in our celebration of the Eucharist; and it is his Eucharistic presence that allows us to speak of our church buildings as temples.

Jesus waits for us in these buildings, ready to engage our hearts as he did the Temple’s rabbis.  The tabernacle in which our Lord dwells under the appearance of bread is the reality foreshadowed in the Temple’s Holy of Holies and the table of shewbread kept before it.  When Jesus told the woman of Samaria, “an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem … [but] authentic worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth,” he was not eliminating the idea of holy ground.  Rather, he was expanding it.  Holy ground is now found wherever our Lord’s Body is reserved in the tabernacle.

Are you longing for Jesus?  Do you feel like you can’t find him no matter how hard you pray? Make a pilgrimage to the temple – not thousands of miles away, but down the road to your parish.  There you will find him.  There you will objectively enter into his presence, no matter how deep your sadness or confusion.  There you can offer yourself to him, place yourself into his Heart, without any need for words.  In the simple act of going to him, sitting in his presence, and gazing at him with longing, you will have prayed beautifully.  “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).

Like Mary and Joseph, you will always find Jesus in the Temple.

This article was adapted from Shane Kapler’s book, Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own (Angelico Press, 2014).

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  • JMC

    The table of shewbread was kept…as a symbol of the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, wasn’t it? If that is so, is it accurate to see the shewbread as a type of the monstrance containing a consecrated Host at Exposition?

  • Sandra Lipari

    Shane: Love the introduction story. This story has always puzzled me, especially as a convert and so often we hear of Mary’s “Fiat.” Joseph and Mary did not understand his reason?

  • BillinJax

    There is plenty of room for skepticism when trying to understand why (amazing to you and me and others) Luke came to think Mary had no idea what her son was talking about in the Temple. Just as you, it is more than puzzling to me because I am convinced she was entirely aware of his purpose and mission at he time but realistically “surprised” that Jesus would attempt to begin that mission before manhood as scripture clearly tells us was the case. (And that would be at his mothers suggestion at the wedding feast by the way)
    Just remember, Luke also wrote elsewhere in scripture of Jesus’s brothers being in the crowd with him and we know he was her only child and Mary was ever a virgin,
    Translation of scripture is not an easy task and we have to use reason and logic often as the Church has done over the ages.to gain not only the message of truth but also a faithful understanding of it.

  • Shane Kapler


    No, the text seems very clear that Mary and Joseph did not understand Jesus’ response at that moment. You mentioned Mary’s “Fiat”, and I think that is a wonderful point to raise. Mary’s “yes,” her desire for God’s will did not involve knowing all of the details, all of the joys and struggles entailed by that “yes”, beforehand. She desired the will of God, and offered herself totally for the accomplishment of that will – WHATEVER it was. That is what makes her the ultimate model of faith for us to emulate. There were going to be things happened, or in this case abrupt responses that Jesus made, that she had to meditate upon in her heart. I hope this doesn’t seem “scandalous” in any way.

    Chapter 3 of “Mary: The Church at the Source,” is Cardinal Ratzinger’s (then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) commentary on John Paul II’s encyclical, “Redemptoris Mater”. Ratzinger wrote, “The Pope vigorously underlines the Evangelist’s affirmation that ‘they did not understand’ what he meant (Lk 2:48-50; RM, no 17). Even in the midst of the closest intimacy the mystery remains a mystery, and even Mary touches it only in faith. But precisely thus she remains truly in contact with this new self-revelation of God, that is, with the Incarnation” (p.50).

    In the next paragraph Cardinal Ratzinger continued, “The Pope’s meditation on Mary’s faith reaches its apex and its summation in his interpretation of Mary’s standing under the Cross … [U]nder the Cross, the word of promise that has been given to her … seems to be definitively proved wrong. Faith enters into its utmost kenosis. It is in total darkness. But precisely in this way faith is perfect participation in Jesus’ expropriation (Phil 2:5-8)” (p.50-51).

    Pope Francis recently made reference to John Paul’s words about Mary at the foot of the Cross too, expressing his agreement. So we have Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), John Paul II, and now Pope Francis all expressing their belief that Mary – like all of those entrusted to her by Christ – had to “walk by faith, not by sight.”

    Does that help at all?

  • Shane Kapler

    The table of shewbread was kept in the Hekal, the antechamber to the Holy of Holies, before the altar of incense. It was known as the “bread of the presence” or “bread of the face”. (Amazing, no?) Prior to the coming of Christ, the rabbis had even come to regard the shewbread as a symbol of the Messiah. And yes, your insight is spot on. I see it as an image of the Eucharist as a whole – the constant re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice before the Father. (And Exposition is of course a wonderful part of our Eucharistic faith.)

  • Shane Kapler

    BillinJax – as I pointed out to you in another thread, and reiterated above, Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II read Luke as meaning that Mary did not understand Jesus’ words at that time. Don’t take that too far afield though. Was Mary aware of Jesus’ purpose? She knew He became incarnate to save His people from their sins. Does that mean she understood every sentence He spoke to her or everything He did without need for further reflection (as Luke says at the end of his account)? That goes beyond what the Magisterium has always affirmed.

    Your mention of Jesus’ brothers is a totally different matter exegetically speaking. The confusion for modern readers in this instance flows from their lack of knowledge regarding how Jewish people in the first century used the term “brother”, as well as lack of careful attention to what the rest of the New Testament says about James and Jude, who were sons of another of His Mother’s relatives (who likewise bore the name Mary). There is nothing like this at work in the account of the Finding in the Temple.

    Is there a Magisterial teaching of the Church tied to this passage that Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical and Cardinal Ratzinger’s scholarship are in disagreement with? So far as I know, their interpretation was nothing novel.

  • BillinJax


    You and I have bigger fish to fry helping those new to the
    church or those still outside in guiding them home than to debate the mind of Our Lady and the depth of her knowledge of her young son. In truth, we have difficulty and are at odds with many Christians concerning much of scripture and its interpretation. So let’s call a truce on this one for now.
    However, in return, I have a question or two for you. During her pregnancy who did Mary “understand” the father of her child to be? For that matter, who did Elizabeth think and say was in her cousin’s womb? Where did such understanding come from if not from the Holly Spirit?
    Again, at this time we have enough on our hands to clarify and interpret the words and actions of our beloved Pope Francis that have even the faithful confused and divided.

    Peace to you.
    A good read on Mary.. http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/meditations/chaminade/participation.html

  • Shane Kapler


    It doesn’t seem quite proper to write “lets call a truce,” and then post questions and a link to an online essay. (The essay is a good read, although it did not contain any official statements of the Magisterium that would disagree with the common interpretation of Luke. Fr. Neubert’s work, highlighted at the link, is speculative. Speculation isn’t bad; it’s how we eventually make progress in our understanding – but it’s not the voice of the Church at this point in time. For the record, though, I really do like Neubert and plan to reference him in a new project I’m working on.)

    I still don’t understand what, if anything, you think I, or John Paul II, or Cardinal Ratzinger are denying to Our Lady by reading Luke’s account of the Finding in the Temple in the way we have. Are you trying to say that Jesus had already disclosed all the plans for His future ministry to her, prior to the age of 12? If you are – and please note that I am only saying “if” – then speculation and expression of amazement that others do not see it the same way is surprising to me. I certainly didn’t think that when Sandra posted her original comment, she was expressing such a belief; I read her as simply asking WHAT it was that Mary and Joseph did not understand in Jesus’ response, as they clearly knew Who His Father was/is, and to Whom the Temple belonged. What they didn’t understand was apparently WHY He responded in the way He did, meaning WHY He thought they should have known He was in the Temple instead of in the caravan back to Nazareth. It was clearly not obvious to them, and they did not comprehend why He answered as if it should have been. (The theme of my article is, after all, “where” we find Jesus.)

    I’m not quite sure why you posed the questions you did to me in your last comment. Could the source of the difficulty be that you think I am disputing that Mary and Joseph knew Jesus was Divine? My statements in past comments and articles should have made abundantly clear Who I know the Father of Mary’s Child to be – Jesus has only one Father, His Father in Heaven. That was part of Gabriel’s message to Mary at the Annunciation. And of course Luke tells us who Elizabeth thought was in her cousin’s womb, “the Lord.” It would never even occur to me, nor any of the other authors I’ve read at Catholic Exchange, to posit lack of understanding regarding Jesus’ identity to Mary and Joseph. They did not understand Him that day at the Temple, but it could never have been in regards to THAT.

    Your last comment really makes my point here though: If someone introduces speculation, which goes beyond the literal sense of the text (this literal sense reflecting how it has been understood by our saintly Holy Father John Paul II -“Totus Tuus” – and countless others), when the text is intelligible exactly as it is and implies nothing unorthodox regarding our Blessed Mother, then no – it is not helpful to those new to the Church or those still outside of it. Catholics are free to speculate that Jesus disclosed future details of His public ministry to Mary early-on. But precisely because it is speculation, I do not recommend such speculation in catechesis or public forums, nor would I see cause for one engaged in such speculation to express wonder and surprise that so many others have not reached the same speculative conclusion.

  • Sandra Lipari

    Love this “reply” Shane! I would like to “use” this too. Do you know or have any primary source documents that press this also? Church document or other? I’ll look too. This is highly significant preface to the real deal and the more we stage this for more eyes and hearts to read the better! Thank you!

  • Sandra Lipari

    Great response! I believe she knew too, as well extremely well her Son knew too. I was posing the question because of the way Scripture reads. I might add “my” considerations (which I have been told are not fully accurate because I do not have Church teachings to support my beliefs that the way this reads is more along the lines they were yet another treasure she was pondering this, like she pondered these things in her heart. The way any parent ponders a child’s role or actions in the world, a purely natural phenomena. I understand also the problem with translations! Translations really direct us sometime in a direction away from the original intent! Your way with words is incredible! Boldness of Faith, in courage alive, your summaries, condensing the story to make a point, is WONDERFUL! Please keep up the GREAT work!

  • Shane Kapler

    Sandra, this is a big piece of what I do in the book “Through, With, and In Him”. As to references – Michael Keenan Jones’ “Toward a Christology of Christ the High Priest” (Editrice Pontificia Universata Gregoriana: Rome, 2006) and Scott Hahn and David Scott’s “Letter & Spirit, Volume 4: Temple and Contemplation” (St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, 2008). If memory serves, I would start with Brant Pitre’s essay in that volume.