Teaching in the Temple

Christological history continues at St. John’s with a window of Jesus teaching in the temple, located in the middle of the west wall. The Evangelist Luke alone recounts this event. He tells how each year Mary and Joseph went from their home in Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebration the feast of the Passover. When Jesus was twelve they went to Jerusalem as was their custom. On their journey homeward, after a day of traveling, they realized that their son was not among their party. Concerned about his whereabouts, they returned to Jerusalem to seek him. After three day’s of searching, they found him in the temple “sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers.” Mary and Joseph, like most parents in their position, were vexed by their son’s behavior and chided him for it. He responded by saying, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” This statement greatly perplexed Mary and Joseph, for they did not understand its meaning. Luke’s account is extremely important for knowledge of the Jesus’ childhood after infancy, for little is known about the Lord until his baptism. The extraordinary nature of the event probably led Luke to record it.
The window at St. John’s exhibits a youthful Jesus, barefoot and dressed in a simple white robe, standing in the temple precinct among a group of teachers. As he speaks he raises one hand, the traditional sign of oration. Perhaps he poses a question or answers one, as mentioned in the banderole above, “They found him in the temple sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2: 46)  Around him, six men dressed in traditional Jewish garb sit and listen attentively. Two lean forward to hear him better. To Jesus’ left, a man in blue points to the book held in his hand, while at the same time he looks directly at Jesus. His actions suggest that he compares the boy’s teaching with that of his source. Across from him, another man, also in blue, grasps a scroll. Mostly assuredly the texts these men hold are of sacred scripture. The men’s faces are void of expression. However the quote below provides their thoughts, “An all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers.” (Luke 2: 47)  A partially unrolled scroll and closed book rest on the stone floor before Jesus.
The lavishly decorated room that sets the stage for the event owes more to artistic license then to historical accuracy. The white and gold arch enclosed by a curtain above Jesus’ head is probably meant to represent the Holy of Holies. Christian art tends to depict this area of the temple as a curtained tabernacle. The placement of Jesus’ face in front of this structure is seems to echo visually his presence in the tabernacle on the high altar.
The combination of the books and scrolls in this scene are unusual. At the time of the event, Jewish sacred scriptures were always preserved in scrolls and never in books. The book became the conveyor of sacred scripture only when Christians adopted it for their writings, particularly the Gospels. The book was used because it distinguished Christian writings from other types and to made movement between the sections easier. The presence of the books in the window reminds us of present-day practices and the placement of the book over the scroll in the foreground proclaims that the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament.
The theme of teaching expressed in the window is particularly apt for a college chapel. The presence of the window here might have led the artist to portray the moment when Jesus teaches rather than the later moment when his parents rebuke him for his disobedience. Jesus’ ability to astonish his elders shows that wisdom is not limited by age.