The Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Holy Mary, Rosary

The Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple

We can lose sight of how awesome the Nativity is due to the over-commercialization of Christmas. (I can imagine Jesus pulling down merchandise from the shelves of Walmart, saying, “The Word did not become flesh so you can get a deal on a giant TV!” Maybe that’s neither here nor there.) My last post tried to capture some of the joy and wonder of that event. With the final two of the Joyful Mysteries, the challenge can be finding meaning in what are to us more obscure events.

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Obedience, or fidelity to the law, is a major theme in both mysteries. The Law required the new parents, after a period of forty days, to offer a sacrifice of a yearling lamb and a young turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering. If the couple could not afford a lamb, a second turtledove or pigeon could be sacrificed (Leviticus 12:6-8). In addition, every first-born child was to be consecrated to the Lord, “for it belongs to me” (Exodus 13:1-2). This consecration was intimately connected with God sparing the firstborn of the Israelites during the Passover.

Now, Mary had no need for a sin offering, for she was born without sin. Nor did Jesus need to be consecrated to God, for he was God, and was one with the Father. Nevertheless, the Holy Family was faithful to the Law, even going above and beyond the Law by presenting Jesus in the Temple, which was not a requirement. (1) Luke notes that Mary and Joseph sacrificed a pair of birds, implying that they could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24). The contrast between their material poverty and spiritual riches is a theme throughout Luke’s Gospel.

In the Temple both the “righteous and devout” Simeon and the “prophetess” Anna proclaim the greatness of Jesus, to the amazement of Mary and Joseph. Simeon specifically tells Mary, “Behold, this child is destined to be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). For Simeon and Anna, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple was the fulfillment of many years of patient waiting, of many years of prayer finally answered in God’s good time. Their journey mirrors ours, as the culmination for the faithful of our years on Earth is to bow down and rejoice at the pierced feet of our Savior.

But what could Mary make of this message? Throughout the Joyful Mysteries, her “yes” to God in the Annunciation leads to nothing but surprises: joy and wonder one moment, hardships and trials the next. Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” (2) She must have wondered what the future held for her and her son, and what Simeon meant by that sword.

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

This is the only story recounted by any of the evangelists between the infancy narratives and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry “when he was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23). Most of Jesus’ life on earth was spent in anonymity, as he went about being an obedient son, learning his foster father’s trade of carpentry, caring for his mother, and quietly doing his Heavenly Father’s will every day. We can learn much from this part of Jesus’ life as we try to do God’s will each day.

The Holy Family is again being obedient to the Law by traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. As they journey home, Mary and Joseph look for Jesus among friends and relatives traveling in their caravan. When they cannot find him, they race back to Jerusalem, searching high and low for three stress-filled days before finding him, teaching, in the Temple.

I would guess that every parent has had the experience, even if it’s only for a minute on a playground, of having lost a child. Even that one minute is a little nerve wracking. Ten minutes is excruciating. So imagine how Mary and Joseph felt when they spent three days searching anxiously for their lost twelve year-old boy. When they found him, their incredible relief gave way to “astonishment,” as they saw him conversing with the teachers in the temple. If Mary was less than holy, she might have been angry with Jesus. She was upset enough to ask him, “Son, why have you done this? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 3:48-49)

Jesus was a good son. Luke makes a point after this story that Jesus was obedient to his parents (Luke 3:51). But Jesus’ ultimate obedience was to his Heavenly Father, which nothing could keep him from. This is illustrated even more dramatically when Jesus predicts his passion, and Peter wants to talk him out of it. “Get behind me, Satan!” is Jesus’ response (Mark 8:33). Nothing will separate him from his Father’s love, nor keep him from carrying out his Father’s will. These two stories illustrate that be a Christian is to “love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” and to be obedient to him at all times (Mark 13:29).

For Mary, her three days searching for Jesus, and the great anxiety it caused her, foreshadow the greater pain and suffering she would go through when Jesus died and was buried. Her “yes” to God had led to yet another trial that she did not understand. Pope Benedict XVI comments eloquently on this point:

“Even Mary’s faith is a ‘journeying’ faith, a faith that is repeatedly shrouded in darkness and has to mature by persevering through the darkness. Mary does not understand Jesus’ saying, but she keeps it in her heart and allows it to gradually come to maturity there.” (3)

Like Mary, we are all on a faith journey that will have trials and hardships along the way. The devil will try to use these to his advantage to lead us away from God. Tell him to go back to hell where he belongs. Emulate Mary, who bore her trials patiently, pondered them in her heart, and above all, put all her trust in God, who always rewarded her faith and hope with treasures beyond compare.


(1) Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. 2012: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, p. 82-83.

(2) By telling us what Mary kept in her heart, Luke strongly hints that the source for his infancy narratives is Mary herself.

(3) Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives., p. 125.

Image at top of pgae: Christ among the Doctors by Paolo Veronese –, Public Domain,

Michael Haverkamp

Michael Haverkamp is a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church. He is grateful to his parents for raising him in the faith. He resides in Columbus, Ohio with his amazing wife and three sons. By day he is a (usually) mild-mannered grant writer.

2 thoughts on The Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple

  1. Mike, this is an excellent and thoughtful commentary on these two Joyful Mysteries which I would agree are the least understood and appreciated mysteries. May God continue to bless you in this ministry.

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