"How is it that ye sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?"
"And they did not understand the saying he spoke to them" (Luke 2:49, 50).
These words, recorded in Luke, are the only ones uttered by the youthful Jesus of which we have an account. They are simple and direct. Why were they not understood, especially by his parents, who surely knew the boy’s habit of thought? Or did they? He was found in the temple, sitting among the teachers, "listening to them and asking questions: and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers." Evidently he, too, was being asked questions and making replies quite out of the ordinary.
In a late issue of the Friends Intelligencer it was recommended that we read the Bible with "imagination," not to distort truth but to give it life and vitality. In this spirit let us seek what was amazing in the answers Jesus gave both to his parents and to the teachers.
I think it was his confident way of speaking of God as "My Father." Jesus was a sensitive lad with a keen mind and by the time he was twelve, he had been well started on the study of the Law and the Prophets that he later expounded with such insight and wisdom. Did he find in them the beautiful relationship of Father and son that became the heart of his own teaching?
Reference to a concordance shows very few times when God is considered in a direct and individual relationship. He is the "Father of Nations," or in a comparative expression, "Like as a father pitieth his children" (Psalm 103). In Jeremiah 3:19 we find, "Ye shall call me My Father and shall not turn away from following me." This again is a relationship with Judah and Israel as a chosen people, not individual sonship.
On what, then, did Jesus build his concept? Could it have been a personal experience? I think it was.
He was reared in a strict Jewish home, the eldest of a fair-sized family, where "Honor thy father and mother" was a natural habit springing from mutual affection. The father’s love for this son was of particular quality arising from the unusual circumstances surrounding the times before and after the lad’s birth.
We are deeply indebted to Matthew, in the first and second chapters of his gospel, for the clear picture he gives us of Joseph, a man of great strength of character. Consider how this love triumphed over doubt and uncertainty when he was betrothed to Mary and "resolved to divorce her quietly." Read Matthew 1:18 to 25. Love is surely the "Angel of the Lord," whether it speaks in a dream or by the voice within. Here love won by faith.
The next dream demanded faith plus great courage and unselfishness. Just when Joseph and Mary, with the precious babe, expected to return to their new home and settle down, he was warned of danger, not for himself or his wife, but for this new child that had come into their lives. How easy to persuade himself that it was yielding to an unreasonable fear to entertain the suggestion of fleeing into Egypt to avoid the temper of a king who did not even know them, to forego home, an established trade, normal living, to travel across weary miles of unknown difficulty and danger to a foreign land! Was this required of him?"
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod (Matthew 2:14, 15a).
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel" (Matthew 2:19).
Another dream led them back to Nazareth, to the long-delayed normal life. Such devotion is the outward sign of great love which grew as the child grew.
When the father taught this son the art of carpentry, is it too much to suppose that some of the experiences of these journeys were retold in the long hours together? Do we hear echoes in the parables where long journeys are the background?
Jesus’ recurrent surprise at the "little faith" he found in people might easily come from association with Joseph, whose faith was as perfect as a child’s. Such faith is contagious.
Another of the fundamentals of Jesus’ life and teaching that he learned from his parents was obedience (Luke 2:61). He does not use this term, but over and over he speaks of the "will of my Father." We are so apt to think that such power was in Jesus that he had no struggle to practice the virtue, but here we get more than a glimpse of the training of a very strong will to yield to guidance. The story of the temptations, as told in both Matthew and Luke, though in an oriental, dramatic setting, is really an inner struggle to set a right aim and course of procedure for the coming ministry. It seems like a bit of autobiography, or its equivalent, for Jesus, we are told, was alone "in the wilderness." There is a close relationship between his return to Nazareth after the youthful visit to Jerusalem, the temptations, and the final triumph in obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22: 42- 44).
It is evident that the parental training was strict but loving, for Jesus has a great deal to say about rewards. Reread Matthew chapters 5 and 6 and see the emphasis laid not only on personal conduct but on the right relationship of child and parent. The latter quietly observes the growth in spiritual quality and gives praise and encouragement. This was in all probability Joseph’s method, and Jesus carried it forward into his teaching.
Jesus also has much to say about punishment, but there is no evidence that it was a personal experience, and it is likely that it was based on the teaching in the synagogue and was an accepted premise of those days. Read his Mother’s gentle rebuke when he was lost as a boy (Luke 2:46).
The Golden Thread
The Nazarene home was built on the sure foundation of love, and this spiritual quality runs like a golden thread through all of Jesus’ public life. "The hairs of your head are numbered," "Your Father knows whereof ye have need before you ask Him," and the beautiful parables of protection like the Lost Sheep and the Spar- row’s Fall betray this.
We know not when the earthly bonds between Joseph and Jesus were severed, but it is reasonable to think that the love and understanding of Joseph’s character and worth deepened in Jesus with maturing years.
The concept of God as Father was established early and expanded into an ideal that burst the bonds of Judaism and included Samaritans, Greeks, and all mankind in "Our Father, who art in heaven."
The faith, hope, and outpouring love of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is a finished portrait of what a father may be. For those who have not known such tenderness in earthly experience, Jesus offers by implication the greater, more abiding, and permeating love of the Heavenly Father.
Joseph was the point of departure from which Jesus gave an entirely new interpretation of the relationship between the human and divine elements in life.
These thoughts are suggestive and there is no desire to press the point too far.