August 9 would have been the 65th birthday of my late husband, Bob Reed. It’s been almost ten years since his death, and it’s difficult to not wonder what life would have been like for me, for Hannah, for Noah, and for many others, had he not left so soon. But lately, I’ve been thinking about his death in light of the life of Jesus and the death of his own earthly father.
Mark 6:3 says, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live here among us.”Joseph is not mentioned in this verse. The last we hear of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was when Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. After that, Scripture is silent about what happened to him. Many speculate that Joseph died shortly after he is last mentioned.
I wonder how old Jesus was when he lost his father. I think of Hannah and Noah who lost their father at the tender ages of 15 and 14. Was Jesus around the same age as them?
He was the oldest son with quite a number of siblings. In North America, that doesn’t have much meaning, but the rest of the world still understands what that means. It means you are responsible for your mother and siblings. In Nigeria, the oldest son is called the “second father.” If Jesus was the oldest, and let’s guess he might have been 15 by the time of Joseph’s death, there were at least four brothers and maybe an equal number of sisters younger than him. That is quite a number of mouths to feed, and I’m sure he shared that responsibility with his mother.
The way that he was likely to do raise the money to care for the family would have been through the family business, the carpentry shop. By the time Joseph died, I would speculate that Jesus was well-versed in the family business. He would have understood the craft, having grown in “wisdom and stature.” He would have probably learned how to not hit his thumb with a hammer and how to pull splinters from his hands. He would have learned the art of supply and demand. He would have learned customer service. He would have learned how to deal with the competition. He would have understood sales. He may have had to repossess a table or two from those who didn’t complete payment. As “second father,” he would have had to teach his younger brothers the trade as well.
I’ve wondered why Jesus waited to start his ministry at the age of 30. Could it be that he was waiting until his younger siblings were all independent and cared for? Is it possible that the wedding of Cana (where his mother played the role of the host) was possibly his last sister and the turning of water into wine a celebration of the successful launching of all his siblings, freeing him to launch his ministry?
With all this wondering, I then understand better the significance of Jesus on the cross, looking down on his mother. In one of his final acts, he cares for his mother by asking for John to carry on for him, as a son. What a close relationship Jesus must have had with his mother – losing Joseph, raising the other children, struggling with a family business…the relationship with the oldest son in this context must have been very close indeed.
It makes me think of the day after Bob died with new wonder. I will never forget that day, as Noah told me, “Mom, I think it’s time we move on.” I’ve chuckled at this comment over the years, asking if it would be okay if I at least had 48 hours. But as I’ve considered Jesus and the relationship he had with his mother, this comment from Noah has taken on much more significance to me. This was not a statement of insensitivity – rather it showed his desire to step in to be a caretaker and help his mom – to try to get her to stop crying. I had to fight to NOT let him take care of me. I wanted him to still be a “normal” teenager (whatever that means). But that instinct was there in him and showed up consistently over the years.
When I think of Noah’s instinct, it makes me even more keenly aware of the emotions at the cross between Jesus and Mary. It makes me choke up if I let it.
But more than anything, it makes the passage from Hebrews 4 all the more significant. We have a High Priest who understands our troubles. He understands what my children went through in losing a father. He understands having to raise and provide for children – his siblings. He understands working with his hands and running a small business. He understands the depth of relationships between a parent and child.
So we can come boldly to His throne. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Hebrews 4: 14-16 (NLT) So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.