Updated: February 4, 2023
by Louis Templeman
After Herod dies Joseph was instructed by an angel to return to Israel. In Israel Joseph learns Herod’s son is on the throne. This gives him pause. He cannot relocate near the King. Perhaps, he felt the Messiah should grow up near the Temple, but he fears this cannot be. He dreams again and received more instruction and so goes to Galilee to a town called Nazareth.
In Nazareth life finally settled down for Joseph. He surely reestablished the routines he enjoyed before he married Mary. Whatever duties he encountered as a Son of David, husband, foster father, he performed as completely as possible.
He was a godly man. Very religious. His religion was real, from the heart. His ritual observances spoke not only of his comfort in the culture of Judaism but were also a soulful, pious embrace of righteousness.
Luke 2: 41 states, “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.” The Passover after Jesus’ bar mitzvah, when he turned 12, presented Joseph with an unusual conundrum. This was his fifth Passover since he relocated to Nazareth. The other four went smoothly. They had made the pilgrimage with family and neighbors.
Jesus was an unusual boy. More steady and mature than any man Joseph knew. His morality, his work ethic, his sense of responsibility, his ability to take care of himself and his natural propensity for kindness, generosity and strength gave Joseph an unmeasured sense of trust in the child.
On the previous trips they often traveled for miles without the child being near. Especially if Joseph or Mary were not in need of his assistance. They knew he was safe, making good use of his time, possibly helping others in the caravan full of family and neighbors. Or, maybe he was seeking solitude and time for prayer.
So, on this fifth return from Passover when Jesus went missing it raised no alarm. When evening came and they bedded down for the night it is certain he was troubled. When he did not make himself known in the morning Joseph made arrangements to turn around and go find him. It was his responsibility to care for the child and at that moment he did not even know where he was. They had made a day’s travel away and it took a day to return.
Perhaps they stopped at Elizabeth’s and Zacharias’ house to see if he was with John. Perhaps, they went to the inn where they had boarded. Having made five annual trips to Jerusalem they were not without contacts in the city. They inquired at every one. It may be they ran into a priest, one whom Jesus had formed a bond with, and on advising him of their missing son, he replied, “Oh, yes, Jesus. He’s causing quite a stir. He’s probably still in the Temple. He’s been holding court with the best minds in Israel the last few days”.
Once again, after twelve years, publicity again concerning his son. All the memories resurfaced. Jesus, his son, was destined to be a great public figure. In the Temple they found him surrounded by the old grey beards of Israel. Joseph had recovered. He’d lost track of Jesus. He searched until he found him. Joseph understood work. He understood duty. He himself had a vocation from God since that first dream. He knew a boy of twelve, according to covenant custom, was considered a young man. He knew Jesus had a vocation. He may have known his son was simply doing what came natural to him. He was a man. He was beginning his vocation as a man of God.
Nevertheless, he felt the contradiction within himself. His personal responsibility over the family was now being crosscut by Jesus’ emerging embrace of his responsibility to do God’s will. As always Joseph is silent. As always he is right there. Never missing from the excitement, he gives a steady calming influence. It is Mary who speaks.
Depending on how you would interpret the inflection of her voice it would seem her emotions could range from relief, distraction, exasperation, perplexity to disapproval. However, Jesus explained to them that this is where he belongs. Why would they look for him outside his Father’s house? What else would he be involved in except his Father’s business? His Father’s business?
Joseph knew he was not being referred to. His role as father had been temporary. His role was changing. It was the changing of the guards. Jesus was moving from under his watch care to dwell under the shadow of God’s wings. Joseph sensed the change in a way entirely different from Mary. He would allow his son the space to spread his wings. Who did he know other than his son who would refer to God as Father, with such authority, with such intimacy?