When they returned from the trip to Jerusalem at the age of twelve, after he had been found discussing weighty matters with the doctors of Law, a subtle difference was felt by them all. Their home seemed less than the usual tight little circle of warmth, and a quiver of electricity charged the atmosphere, as though to usher in some portent of the future. Outwardly things resumed their normal way. Jesus continued to perform as before with his parents but the words he had spoke in the Temple, that he must be about his Father's business, echoed and re-echoed in the consciousness of them all, with the deepening weight of their significance.
As he worked with an earthly father, he began to think more and more about his heavenly Father, so that sometimes he would momentarily forget the hammer and saw, and gaze off as though listening to something far away. He was no longer mischievous and had long since ceased to cause trouble for the townsfolk, having gained control over impulses and having learned to conceal well his miracles and secret works while giving himself over to the more serious studies of God related to man.
Childhood for a young Hebrew lasted until the beginning of a boy's fourteenth or a girl's thirteenth year. At that age the Law began to bind, but before that children were minors before the Law. The Confirmation that is today called the Bar Mitzvah was celebrated in a different way then, but when he passed the thirteenth year he was made a son of the Commandment, and the child became a man, to be formally presented in the synagogue.
Previous to this, he had been counted much the same as was a woman in the congregation, and until now his parents were responsible for his sins. But on this day he became a man and fully shouldered responsibility for his own actions. For the first time he would stand up before the synagogue and recite his portion of the Scripture, having donned the prayer shawl, and the phylacteries about his wrist and forehead which contained certain written words of Scripture.
As Jesus grew older, he also grew more thoughtful and intense. No longer did he show the bright unquestioning trust of a child who looks up to father and mother as supreme authority in his life. His demeanor became more gallant toward his mother, while less confiding, yet ever respectful toward his father, but less seeking for his advice. There was a growing intentness about him that caused Mary's gaze to rest upon him a little more keenly when he was not looking, and that made Joseph pause and consider. But they could only love him more as they watched the stream of life deepen, and the grace with which he developed manly qualities, vibrant and masterful, while yet containing his mastery with perfect respect for all men, and learning to use his power, not to control others but only himself. He did not mind when young maidens looked at him, he enjoyed their company, but avoided the speculations of their mothers, careful to allow no opening for marriage commitments.
Later when he would teach parables about wineskins and sewing patches on garments, it was because these were the simple happenings of his daily life and the lives of everyone about him. Though books might be written in attempts to explain certain things which now have become distant past, to him these were simple daily events. He had watched the women sew and had seen wineskins burst. He knew his hearers understood these things as well as he did and used such examples for the very reason of their simplicity, to illustrate a spiritual parallel and make it easier to follow.
If a new Messiah were to come in the 20th century, and a Bible written from contemporary life, can you imagine the frantic research that might go on 2,000 years in the future trying to decipher what was meant by eating hot dogs or soul food, or listening to hard rock, to mention only a few examples?
Aramaic was the language of Jesus' day, but many persons spoke the vernacular Greek called Koine (this not being the classical Greek.) The settling of Greeks in northern Palestine brought this about, as well as the travelers coming through by caravan, many of whom were Alexandrian Jews en route to Jerusalem. Jesus sometimes listened to their tales of other places, but was not deceived by their glamour. The rough and worldly ways of these men compared unfavorably with the beauty and holiness of his own household, but he valued the opportunity to glean more understanding of the ways of men, for mankind was to be his great study in preparation for the work to come.
He would never live as they did, having passed this way many lifetimes before, but he must renew such knowledge and get the feel of their hearts and minds, some understanding upon which to rest his love for them, in order that he might fully give himself to them. He must rub shoulders with all kinds of men, in all walks of life. He must share to some extent their jobs and sufferings in order to have compassion on them. For one of such perfection to drop to earth suddenly could only feel aghast at man's persistent efforts at self-undoing, and his contrariness to all that God teaches. So he walked and talked with them. He ate and drank with them. He got the feel of them and his heart opened with pity and compassion.
Jesus' formal education has always been a matter of much speculation, due to the silence of the Scriptures on the subject. One school of thought declares that because he was a son God and already knew all things, he spent those years between twelve and thirty in contemplation, an uninstructed villager making little contact with the outside world, growing to manhood in a kind of divine ignorance of anything but that received in contemplation of God.
Others go to opposite extremes and say he was taught all his life by the best of teachers and traveled in all parts of the then- known world; that he went to India, to Persia, and to China to be taught by the finest masters in all these countries, he in turn teaching the people there and being called by different names in each country.
The most persistent belief is that Mary and Joseph were Essenes and that he himself grew up in an Essene community. We will speak of this sect a little further on due to the current interest in the excavations of Qumran, and the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, believed to have been the work of Essenes.
Any of the aforementioned programs was possible during that span of eighteen years, or any combination of them -- and it was a combination of these that filled the years in between. No one could have been living then, having any human contact, without knowing of the almost violet history being enacted at that time all around him. When he was around eighteen, Herod Antipas built a city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee only about fifteen miles from Nazareth in honor of the Emperor Tiberias for whom it was named. This must surely have caused a great commotion in the land with much imported labor and Roman supervision. These were times of intense social, political, religious and literary activity.
Virgil and Homer had both lived and died just before Jesus, and it was a period of achievement on all levels, material and cultural. The great spiritual teacher Hillel just preceded Jesus. Hillel was a rabbi of Babylonian origin and a descendant of David who lived during Jesus' childhood. He was a leading member of the Sanhedrin for forty years. His chief teaching was the Fatherhood of God, and he also taught the virtues of charity, purity and peace. He said, "Judge not thy neighbor till thou art in his place." He left a school which was called the School of Hillel, and many of his teachings were currently discussed along with those of Philo and others in the towns and synagogues, which sometimes acted as debating forums.
Philo was an equally great teacher of the times. An Alexandrian Jew, he was at the height of his activity during Jesus' young manhood, and outlived Jesus by about ten years. He was a cosmopolitan Jew of fiery spirit, who did not hesitate to challenge his adversaries, even the Roman Emperor to his face.
He taught that man's body is a sense-oriented prison for the soul, which seeks to rise again to God. He also taught the Logos as being the highest mediator between God and the world, the first-born son of God, and the high priest who stands before God on behalf of the world. This sounds much like the approach of St. John.
While Joseph and Mary were apparently poor at the time of Jesus' birth, it was known that in later life Joseph was a highly respected man with many acquaintances and relatives, so he could have afforded some kind of schooling for Jesus if it were needed. In fact, Jesus was by then quite capable of earning his own way by carpentry. They were not interested in the common education of the universities, for it would only impede him to have a brain overstuffed with useless facts. He needed a clear and open channel for the Voice of God to direct him all the way. Any teachers he had must have been carefully selected, of the highest spiritual calibre, to clear the channel, not to obstruct it. The synagogue furnished a solid background in Scriptural teaching, and Jesus had come to teach the Truth of these things to the people for whom they had been written. He learned all that was needed to refute the Pharisees on their own ground.
When he was about eighteen, a restlessness stirred within him to go into far places and see how other men lived. This may have been augmented by the clamor of building the nearby city of Tiberius (which became later an ill-reputed place). He saw the tawdriness of politics and wanted no part of it. His parents agreed and prayerfully watched him go.
Jesus boarded a ship which was to stop at all the major ports bordering the Mediterranean. This took many months, for at every stop they remained for some time, in each different and fascinating city. He learned much of the ways of men, all varied, yet all the same. It was a wonderful experience for a young man, but even better to return home to a joyful mother, to rest awhile and go into the hills to contemplate all he had seen, and all that he must do.
But Joseph was no longer there. Perhaps he too had had his fill of political intrigue, and seeing Jesus now a man, able and desirous of standing on his own feet, found his work as protector finished, and quietly left the earth. It seems he waited until just before this trip was ended, then in spirit walked across the water to Jesus who stood on the deck of the sturdy ship by night and told him he must go, giving his blessing. It is possible that Mary had other children, as several are mentioned in the Testament, both brothers and sisters, but most translators claim these were cousins instead. At any rate, Mary was not alone, having many relatives. She was quite young, still in her thirties, and able to make her living, though Joseph had left her wanting nothing. She gracefully accepted the Will of God, knowing the immortality of Spirit, and the grace which Joseph had earned in his earthly mission for the Father in heaven.
He later investigated the Essene community life, but though he stayed with them for awhile it was more to observe and gain experience and to instruct them in what he could see was lacking. He did not actually join them or take vows.
Later still Asia Minor beckoned him and he made a journey through many of their cities, staying not long at any. Here Paul was later to pass through and set up his churches. If Jesus ever went to India or China, it was not mentioned in the Gospels. Though he may have gone quietly to places he did not speak of, it is likely his work with such places was more on the inner level than on the physical.
There is a local belief, stubbornly held to at Somerset in England, that Joseph of Arimathea, a Palestinian who was engaged as a merchant in the metal trade, came directly to Glastonbury from the Near East, and that Jesus, during the unrecorded years of young manhood, came with him to England.
In fact, archeology substantiates the fact that commerce of that sort existed in Somerset since prehistoric times. And in the nearby hills are lead miners whose diggings have been worked since antiquity (until quite recently). They had a local saying, "As sure as Christ came to Prildy." They also used a warning cry when pouring molten metal, saying: "Just as Joseph did!"
The years of Jesus' youth were spent mainly in preparation. God already knew all things, and He would work through His Son to bring the teachings to earth. Jesus had to correlate himself with man in order that these works might come perfectly through in a usable way. His vehicle had to be built in robust strength even while maintaining comparative purity, to prepare it for the coming of the Christ. He had to merge wholly with the physical, while remaining strong enough to stay free and above it. He had to know all the ways and problems of men in order to teach them what needed mending and how to do it, for one does not learn earthly things in the heaven worlds. He had to correct their self-inflicted ills and then give them all that was needed to go on from there.
By the time he was twenty-five, Jesus began to withdraw more from the world, feeling it had nothing more to teach him. He began going more often into the hills alone, and into the desert where a great silence brooded, and communion with God became increasingly his life. He began to see his mission take shape, and gradually spread out before him in all its terrible majesty.
He was able to work now without distraction, because the carpentry did not take his mind from contemplation but served to focus it, so he went quietly about this when at home. He had learned to be warm and jovial too, and people drew about to enjoy his presence and talk. Both he and his mother knew the time was near, and communication between them tended more inward as they bided the time of his ministry.