Mary had no previous memory of any form of life other than that in the Temple, having entered at the age of three, and grown up there. So it was natural for her to gear their home life as nearly as possible to that of the Temple, observing carefully the times for prayer, taking special care in the preparation of dishes as one would prepare them for the priest, and to observe a holy atmosphere of peace and loving kindness. This very atmosphere had been chosen in advance to nurture the child Jesus for his godly mission, and Mary was the channel prepared to provide this climate, along with Joseph, her husband, who showed special tenderness for her divine mission.
Joseph sometimes seems a shadowy figure always in the background of this cosmic drama. But we feel he was anything but that in truth, when we glimpse his sturdy figure standing by, strong and quiet, good and faithful toward God and his charge. We see the tiny boy playing busily near the long legs of a patient, wonderful man. He stands as a tower of earthly strength for these two sent from God. And we feel that he stood as guardian between them and the harshness of the outer world. They were divinely strong in their own right, but this lifetime was directed toward the accomplishment of their single mission, and nothing must obstruct that perfection. Thus he was the man who talked to the neighbors, who carried on the business with the outside world. Mary did not hold aloof, doing whatever was needed of her, but maintaining her rightful quiet before the world, having much to "ponder in her heart," none of which could be spoken. Joseph knew, so there was no need for discussing such sacred matters.
One feels Joseph was warm and friendly, though also capable of silence. He undoubtedly told Jesus many tales over which they could laugh together, and bring their laughter to Mary who moved about preparing their comfort. We feel Mary must have treasured and appreciated his warm and goodly heart and that he in turn comforted her with his understanding, not letting the mission of their lives grow too ponderous in their thoughts. He, too, had been chosen by a wise God for this mission. Mary obviously felt a similar closeness with both Jesus and Joseph, for when Jesus was twelve and she and Joseph together sought and found him in the Temple, she spoke impulsively as would any mother, "Your father and I have been searching for you."
According to a revelation from Mary published by the Church, in her words:
"The whole human race has much undervalued the privilege and prerogatives conceded to my blessed husband, St. Joseph. I assure you that he is one of the greatly favored personages in the Divine Presence, and he has immense power to stay the arm of divine vengeance. That which my husband asks of the Lord in heaven is granted upon earth, and on his intercession depend many extraordinary favors for men."
The Jew in his education did not neglect the worldly and practical side: every Israelite, of whatever rank, had to learn a trade. "On the father lies the task," says the Talmud, "to circumcise his son, to instruct him in the Law, and teach him a craft." Those who gave no profession to their children neglected a great duty. Such neglect, their writings said, was as if one were "to teach them to steal," and it sums up the positive and industrious feeling of the race.
For the Jew has never known the indolence, laziness, and gentle resignation arising out of fatalism common to the East. With him, work is sacred and trade an honor, even among the most illustrious rabbis. Two of the greatest, Hillel and Aquiba, were wood-cutters; while Rabbi Johanan was a shoemaker and Rabbi Isaol a blacksmith.
Naturally Jesus, the son of a carpenter, was a workman like Joseph his legal father; for he grew up in the shop and in work. He no doubt made, as Justin says, wooden implements, ploughs, yokes and scales. He aided his father and lived by the work of his hands as a simple artisan. The true Master of men was to rise from a small workshop.
Deftly teaching Jesus as they worked together at the carpenter's bench, Joseph taught him far more than carpentry. He must have been a true Mason, whether or not consciously; and whether learned or simple, he was a Hebrew father of the finest character, who sat at the head of table and read the Scripture to his family. Hebrew fathers were expected to know the Scriptures, and to teach them to their children. Holy days were meticulously celebrated, and Jesus grew up in the pattern of the ideal Jewish household.
He was taught the discipline of hard daily work, though perhaps not with the total contentment which many artisans come to feel from the labor of their hands, due to the larger work looming distantly on the horizon, as yet unformed in its entirety, but taking shape gradually as the years progressed.
There was a kind of happiness in his childhood, reassociating with the earth and getting accustomed once more to the uses of a physical body. He was almost as carefree as other children, living happily and dutifully, but with greater depth and thoughtfulness. The protection of his parents was so discreet that he probably was seldom made aware of it, and felt rather that he was protecting them. Much of their protection had to do with care concerning his raw use of power -- yet he was also watched over in all things by the Host above and his heavenly Father.
Little is written of the Lord Jesus before the age of seven, but in the Apocrypha it is related that his presence continued to be used for healing.
They said that when Jesus was about five years old he began to play with other boys. One day after it rained they were playing beside a stream and took up wet clay and formed figures out of it. They fashioned creatures in the likeness of animals and birds out of the clay, each trying to excel the other and boasting about what he was doing, when Jesus said to the boys, "Behold, I will command the figures which I have made to walk." And immediately the figures moved. And he had also made figures of birds which he commanded to fly, and when he did so they flew. So that even then he was using his heavenly Father's power of Life and of the Word, though not yet grown enough to be sober in judgment.
When at length the boys went away and related these things to their parents, their fathers said unto them, "Take heed, children, concerning the future of his company, for it appears he is a sorcerer." This happened to take place on a Sabbath day and one of the fathers went to Joseph and questioned him as to why he allowed his child to do such things on a Sabbath. So Joseph went to investigate, and when Jesus saw them coming he commanded the birds to fly away, and the birds flew from sight.
In another childhood prank (they say), when he saw two of his playmates run from him and hide in an oven, he went searching for them, and seeing them run from view he asked their mothers where they were, but their mothers said, "Those are only two baby goats, little kids which you saw." So Jesus said, "Very well then, come forth, ye kids," and so out tumbled two little kids, and the mothers entreated him in sorrow that he change the children back as they were before. So Jesus did then change them back and they played with him.
Again it is said that on carrying home a bucket of water for his mother he spilled it but quickly scooped it all up again in his mantle, and this was shown as indication of his power over the elements.
Another time Jesus played a prank on a certain man who dyed cloth as his means of livelihood, each piece of cloth made a different color according to the order of each client. Jesus passing the dyer's shop took all the cloths and threw them into a furnace, so that when the shopkeeper came home and saw the cloths spoiled he began to make a great noise and he asked Jesus, "What have you done to me, thou son of Mary? You have injured both me and my neighbors, all of whom desire their cloth of a proper color, but you have come and spoiled them all." The Lord Jesus replied, "I will change the color of every cloth to whatever color you desire," and then he began to take the cloths out of the furnace, and they were again all of the same colors which the dyer had desired. And when the Jews saw this miracle they praised God. Is it any wonder that Jesus is still honored in Persia as the patron saint of dyers?
Another story says that Joseph often took Jesus along with him when he was called on a job to make a gate, or a milk stool or a table. And occasionally if the object proved a little too long or too wide or too narrow for the taste of the purchaser, the Lord Jesus would stretch his hands forth, and it would become just as Joseph wanted it, so that he felt no anxiety concerning his labors, being also justly respected for his conscientious work.
On a certain time the king of Jerusalem sent for Joseph and said, "I would have you make for me a throne of the same dimensions with the place in which I commonly sit." This probably occurred in the new seaport town of Caesarea which Herod built on the Mediterranean, not too far from Nazareth, for Herod also built a second palace there.
So Joseph began the work and continued two years in the king's palace before he finished it. But when he came to put the throne in its place, he found that it lacked about a foot on each side of the appointed measure, and when the king saw this he was very angry with Joseph so that Joseph was afraid of the king's anger, and that night he went to bed not taking anything to eat, so that the Lord Jesus asked him what he was afraid of, and Joseph replied, "Because I have lost my labor in the work which I have been about these two years." Then Jesus said to him, "Fear not, for tomorrow you will take hold of one side of the throne and I the other, and we will bring it to its proper dimensions." So Joseph took Jesus to the palace with him the next day and each of them drew with all his strength on his side, and the throne obeyed and was brought to the proper dimension of the place which it was to fit, and those who saw the miracle were astonished and praised God.
In Jerusalem there was a schoolmaster named Zachias who said to Joseph, "Why do you not send Jesus to me that he may learn his letters?" So Joseph agreed, and with Mary they brought him to this master who as soon as he saw him wrote out an alphabet for him and bade him to say "Aleph" for A, and "Beth" for B. Jesus said to him, "Tell me first the meaning of the letter 'Aleph' and then I will pronounce 'Beth.' "
When the master threatened to whip him, the Lord Jesus explained to him the meaning of the letters Aleph and Beth. Then he quickly recited all the letters, explained why some had straight figures, what letters had double figures, which had points, which had none, why one went before the other, and many other things which the master himself had never heard nor read in any book.
The master was so surprised that he said, "I believe this boy was born before Noah," and turning to Joseph he said, "you have brought a boy to me to be taught who is more learned than any master." And he also said to Mary, "This, your Son, has no need of any learning."