Making Sense of One of the Most Shocking Verses in Scripture

James Tissot, Jesus Found in the Temple (1890)

Yesterday’s Gospel has one of the most shocking verses in the New Testament, Luke 2:51, “And he [Jesus] went down with them [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” Is there any Marian hymn in the world with a more scandalous message than that? Scripture is telling us that the God of the all the Universe, the omnipotent, omniscient Second Person of the Trinity, chose to lower Himself and become obedient to Mary and Joseph.

The point of the occult, of every bit of black magic throughout every age of history, has been fixated on one thing: bending the supernatural or Divine to our wills. Instead of obeying God, the occult seeks to make God obey us (or, barring that, settling for working with one of His fallen angels). Yet Jesus Christ takes the initiative, and gives this most coveted authority to a poor Jewish couple. If this weren’t explicitly in Scripture, can there be any doubt that Protestants would accuse Catholics of idolatry for believing this about Mary and Joseph?

This affirms that Mary and Joseph are true parents to Jesus Christ, as shocking and upsetting as that might be. There is a tendency amongst some Protestants to reduce them to something much less: to treat Mary like some sort of human mason jar that happened to hold the Christ, but who can be discarded after Christmas along with the tree, or to treat Joseph like an imposter. A Protestant reader actually accused Mary of being a liar for calling Joseph Jesus’ father (Lk. 2:48), yet that’s exactly what Scripture says of him (Lk. 2:41). True, he’s not Jesus’ biological father, but that’s how adoption works. And since all of us are adopted (since Christ is the only-begotten Son, as John 3:16 says), who are we to complain?

And the timing of this verse is significant. It comes just two verses after Jesus says to His parents (Lk. 2:49), “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

That is, Jesus doesn’t trade obedience to God the Father for obedience to Mary and Joseph. Rather, in obeying His parents, He is obeying the Father; and in obeying the Father, He is obeying His parents (since this is their greatest desire for Him). There’s no tension or competition between the two. The Father isn’t jealous of Joseph for doing the very thing He placed him on earth to do, for example. Loving and honoring Mary and Joseph isn’t somehow contrary to loving and honoring the Father.

So we, who are adopted into the Holy Family by virtue of our Divine adoption (cf. Ephesians 1:5), must follow our Lord’s example. Love, honor, and obey Mary and Joseph with abandon, with the knowledge that you are doing the will of God, and following the example of Jesus Christ.


  1. Considered an even more shocking New Testament verse than that one, Joe, is Collosians 3:18 which was also read yesterday, Sunday, December 29. “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands…”.

    The priest made sure to include the obligatory excuse-making in his homily. He included some husband-bashing too, just as he does in June on Father’s Day. But why should he be different from most priests, eh?

    (I blame the bishops.)

  2. Because we have so diminished the glory and stature of Jesus Christ, Our Creator, Redeemer, Saviour, and Lord and King, this is rarely (if ever) hear at a Sunday Mass in the normative Mass and it reads as quite shocking to modern man:

    Luke 19:26,27But I say to you, that to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: and from him that hath not, even that which he hath, shall be taken from him. But as for those my enemies, who would not have me reign over them, bring them hither, and kill them before me.

  3. I always tie this verse back to the Wedding at Cana when Jesus says, “Woman? What has this to do with you and I?”

    In my mind, what Jesus is saying to Mary at Cana is, “Are you finally permitting me to begin my mission?”

    Jesus, the obedient son of Mary, would not begin His apostolate until Mary gave the nod. In the wedding at Cana, Mary gave Him permission to perform His first public sign.


    De Maria

  4. I have never considered this story to be shocking. Christ humbled himself so much that he allowed the authorities to crucify him. This post makes me think of Christ Hymn from Philippians 2:7-8 “but [Jesus] emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
    And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.”

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