Out of Nazareth
1. When was Jesus presented in the Temple?
2. What’s the significance of the gifts his parents gave?
3. When was Jesus lost in the Temple?
4. What’s the significance of where he was found?
5. How could Jesus’ parents have lost him?
6. What other stories do we know about Jesus’ childhood?
7. When did Joseph die?
8. How many brothers and sisters did Jesus have?
9. Why do so many stories not appear in the gospels?
10. What’s the difference between faith and tradition?
Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day according to Jewish law. After six weeks, when Mary and Jesus had completed the period of purification (another Jewish law that protected mother and child from illness during those critical early days) Jesus was presented in the Temple as the first-born son. (First-born son means both first child and first male child. Sons born after miscarriages would not have been first-borns.) The gift they bring is the substitute gift (doves or pigeons) rather than the more expensive gift of a lamb (Lev 12:8). A holy man, Simeon, and a prophetess, Anna, both recognize the baby by the power of the Holy Spirit (given equally to men and women), and Simeon speaks the familiar words “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…”
Jesus’ family return to the Temple for Passover every year during his childhood (Luke 2:41). When he’s twelve, almost an adult, Jesus probably has a lot more freedom on the journey than in previous years. As a result, his parents don’t always know where he is or who he’s travelling with, and they manage not to notice when he, like a typical teenager, is left behind. The fact that he spends three days speaking with the priests might be symbolically significant – in the same way he is to spend three days in the grave, and to prophesy the rebuilding of the Temple in three days. Three is a number usually associated with God and perfection. The fact that he’s able to intrigue the priests so much with his teaching speaks well of his human learning and his divine calling.
There are other traditional stories about Jesus’ childhood, though they’re not included in the gospels. He is said to have used his powers to protect his parents on their journey to and from Egypt (though lots of people probably travelled the route in safety). Sometimes we hear of him turning clay models into live birds, and raising a childhood friend from the dead after a prank goes wrong. The Selfish Giant meets the little boy Jesus in his garden in Oscar Wilde’s story. And the Little Drummer Boy plays at the manger. Most of these legends date from apocryphal books, written much later than the original gospels, and not accepted as reliable works of truth. Early, illiterate Christians probably longed to “know more” just as we do, and were happy to learn such tales, but church leaders looking for historically verifiable texts would not have included them.
The Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, died, or what he did before he married Mary. Apocryphal stories suggest he was a widower with children before he married Mary; these are used to suggest that Jesus might be Mary’s only child while still having brothers and sisters, though it’s tradition rather than the Bible that says he had no siblings. (The word used for brother in the Bible might also mean cousin, so there’s no proof in the Bible that Jesus did have siblings either.)
Joseph is not mentioned during Jesus’ ministry, while his mother and brothers are, leading us to believe that Joseph was already dead. Jesus was probably working as a carpenter in his father’s place before he began his public ministry (in the Temple, in his Father’s place). Jesus was referred to as “the son of Joseph” by the people of Nazareth, which might suggest identification as the first-born son, or as inheritor of Joseph’s carpentry business.