Think back to when you were a child, to the first time you wandered off from your yard, to do things that kids do: Explore the woods at the end of your street. Look for treasure. Try to catch a rabbit. To this day, it’s probably easy to recall the look on your parents’ faces when they found you: faces full of a mix of worry, fear, panic, and relief. But before scolding you about running off on your own without telling them where you were going, the first thing they did was hug you tight. Probably tighter than you had ever been hugged. Except maybe that one aunt who always pinched your cheeks.
Those minutes that you were gone, for your parents they seemed like an eternity. Every thought they had was about you and your safety. Their stomachs churned as their minds raced. Where were you? Were you okay? They were calling your name, why didn’t you answer? Were you hurt? Were you hurt so bad you couldn’t reply? Did someone take you? Were you… dead? So when you finally wandered back, the relief that you were okay took precedence over any admonishment that certainly came later. They were just so happy that you were home.
Now imagine for a moment, how Mary and Joseph felt when Jesus decided to wander off at the age of twelve. They were returning home from celebrating Passover in Jerusalem. They travelled a day before they realized Jesus wasn’t with them. Picture the scene: They asked around to their friends and relatives, “Hey, have you seen Jesus?” “Last I saw Him, He was with His cousin, John.” “John, John, where’s Jesus?” “Uh, I dunno. Haven’t seen Him since we left Jerusalem.” So they travelled a day back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. Think of the conversation Mary and Joseph must have had on the trip back. “Where do you think He is?” “What if we get there, and He left looking for us?” “Why didn’t He leave with us? I told Him when we were leaving!” “I hope He’s okay.” “I’m sure He’s fine.” “What if we can’t find Him? What if we never find Him?” After a day’s travel, they got to Jerusalem and spent another day looking for Him. And when they found Jesus, after three days of worry, imagine how tight Mary and Joseph must have hugged Him. After all, while losing track of your own child might be rough in and of itself, losing track of the Christ whom God Himself entrusted to your care is a whole other matter entirely. So imagine Mary and Joseph’s emotions when they found Him, safe and sound.
Wandering off became a recurring theme for Jesus. He wandered off from home to be baptized by his cousin John. Then He wandered off into the desert for forty days. There were times where he wandered away from the disciples to pray. But in all these times, Jesus was never truly alone. And He never wandered off aimlessly. Every time Jesus left where He was, He went to follow the Spirit, or to have time with His Father in prayer. Unlike Mary and Joseph, however, Jesus’ Heavenly Father always knew where Jesus was, and He always knew that Jesus was safe. But God the Father also knew that His only Son would, at the appointed time, suffer, and suffer greatly. God the Father also knew that when His only Son fulfilled the prophecies, that though He was innocent of any sin, Jesus would bear the punishment for every sin of mankind. God the Father knew that His only Son would be put to an excruciating and humiliating death by the very people he was sent to save.
Throughout His whole life, Jesus did the Father’s Divine Will, even to the point of accepting His own suffering and brutal death by crucifixion. His love for the Father was shown by His obedience, and in so doing perfected God’s mercy and love for mankind. So how do you suppose God the Son was greeted by God the Father, the Father who knew the suffering His only Son would endure long before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt? No one knows for sure, but a safe bet is the Son was greeted by the Father with a mighty hug, and the Father telling His only Son how happy He was that He was home.
No matter how far we wander, our Heavenly Father knows exactly where we are. He never loses concern that our souls will be lost eternally. He never gives up hope that we will use His gift of free will to choose to love Him. Our Good Shepherd never stops calling our name. For the Father wants nothing more than for all His sheep to be home with Him. And after we take our last breath, if we have battled sin and strived to be right and righteous, the Father will wrap His arms around us, and tell us, “My child, I’m so happy that you are home.”