The Finding of the Lord in the Temple is narrated in Luke 2:46-49. In this modern but traditionally informed icon, the child Jesus is with the elders and the wise, interpreting to them the Scriptures. Before Him are the scrolls of the Bible. The open verse expands the tradition: “I must be in my father’s house.” The seven branched Menorah has become a cross of light. The arch is surmounted by a cupola, a symbol of the celestial vault. The Lord is in the Temple, and God is in heaven, above all, and seeing all.
The dominant feature of the icon is the Lord who stands looking at us with his right hand held in a gesture of piety to his heart, and his left hand on the table on which the scroll of scripture has been placed, indicating that this is what He is concerned with. The three elders with Him are distinguished very slightly by their left hands (on the table, hidden, beneath the right hand), their beards, and the lack of the halo which marks out the Lord. Yet, they are sober and serious men.
Behind them is a double symbol based on the menorah, the seven Jewish lampstands in one structure, from which seven fires lit from olive oil were kindled (candles were not used in the menorah). Exodus 25 recounts how God commanded Moses to manufacture it from pure gold. Above all, the menorah represented light: the light of God which is its central flame, and the light of holiness and knowledge which is in the world, as indicated by the six outer branches. Further, it was a symbol of the Church (depicted as seven representative churches) in the Apocalypse/ Revelation 1:12, where the Lord is the One in the middle of the Seven Golden Lampstands.
So the menorah is already a symbol of the Lord and His Church, and here it is built on the Cross, which is picked out in deep red (perhaps signifying the blood which would be shed on it), with gold for the branches. It symbolises that the New Covenant has come and superseded the Old Covenant: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
In Syriac, the icon is headed “Among the Elders in the Temple,” and the scroll reads: “It is right for me to be in my father’s house.” We learn from this that Our Lord is always in His Father’s House, and is always to be found with the elders, sharing the Word of God and its true meaning. While the onlookers were amazed at the things Our Lord was saying, I think that what He was doing was even more amazing than what He was saying. The real depth of what He reveals about the Scripture is not a new intellectual understanding of what the words mean, or of how stories stand together: it is the change in the way of life. This leads us to another aspect of the mystery: His holy parents were worried for Him. They were no fools. Yet, they took three days to find Him. First, there must always be a search for the Lord. Even Our Lady and St Joseph had to search for Him. They found Him, and so too can we, if we learn from them where He will be.
Second, there was something which Jesus had to do without telling His parents. This is, I think a lesson for all vocations. The Church has always said that when it comes to the sacraments of vocation, it is not always necessary to tell one’s parents let alone to seek their permission: after all, this is the one area in life where, whether we are right or wrong, we stand before God with our conscience and nothing else.
Finally, there is another question for us: am I often enough in my father’s house? Even if I cannot make it to the Church, yet I can be more in His sight, for He sees all which is beneath and above the celestial vault. There is a lot of wisdom in these ancient symbols: for just one week, take the pictures of Christ being in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Tabernacle; and of God being above us in Heaven.
We know there is not literally a big house above the sky, but the mystical reality encapsulates a truth which is more significant than that: that God sees us, always and everywhere. And He is, literally, in His Church.