Any Christian who makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem today will want, at the very least, to visit the two great focal points of the history of the Old and New Testaments: on the one hand, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; on the other hand, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount area, the so-called “Wailing Wall”.
At about twelve years of age, the young boys of Israel are brought to the wall of the Temple in order to take a kind of catechetical examination in front of the Torah Wall. No one knows when the rite originated by which twelve-year-olds pass from the security of their families into the great society and public life of Israel. Be that as it may, the custom can be of immense help to us in understanding the Gospel story of the twelve-year-old Jesus. For something similar is obviously taking place in his life.
We see how Joseph and Mary have schooled Jesus in the law of Israel and how they introduce him now for the first time into the public life of the people; but we see, at the same time, how the Lord changes the nature of this examination: instead of being questioned, he becomes himself the questioner, subjecting the learned doctors of Israel to an examination about the law and seeking by his questions to lead them to a deeper understanding of the law that they will later fail to comprehend, and to open the gates of the law in order to make visible the one to whom it points – himself.
From being the one questioned, he becomes the questioner. He mounts the cathedra of Moses, the Temple, as something properly his. He remains a child; he asks questions; yet he reveals himself as Lord by the very fact that he tests them.
But let us keep our attention on the Holy Family.
We can see clearly in this event the atmosphere of piety, of law, of faith, of love that reigns in that home. We can see also that Mary not only bestowed on her child his biological life, but also shares with him her heart, her life of faith; that she gives him the words of faith and the thoughts of faith, and thus brings him with her into the community of his people. We can see the catechesis of the Hold Family, in which the foundation is first laid for prayer in common, for turning to the living God; and we can see how this family opens itself to its responsibility for the whole.
From: Unpublished homily, Cathedral of Our Lady, Munich, July 7, 1984