You knew it was going to end this way, didn’t you? You knew your son was going to meet a terrible end, and it was going to be all your fault.
Sweat was pouring down Joseph’s brow as he and his wife searched frantically through the shops and streets, the places that, just days before, had brought such joy to their family. Jerusalem had been a city of wonder, the City of God… but now it felt like the streets of hell as they pushed threw the crowds, calling out their son’s name.
Mary held Joseph’s hand while he clung to hers – afraid of losing another one of God’s beloved.
One day… One day… You didn’t know he wasn’t with you for a WHOLE DAY! What kind of father are you?! What kind of a father leaves Jerusalem without his son RIGHT NEXT TO HIM!?
They assumed he was riding with his cousin John and his parents, or with one of their friends from Nazareth. What was a blessing in having a safe close-knit community had now become a curse, a curse that allowed Joseph to let his guard down and lose his son… but not just his son… God’s Son. Joseph felt his heart beating in his ears. His throat was so tight he could barely speak.
The Angel got it wrong. The Angel got it wrong when he chose you. Clearly! You should have refused. For Mary’s sake and for the child’s you should have left quietly before he was born. They would have been better off. What arrogance to think someone like YOU could raise the Messiah! YOU’VE LOST THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD! Now not only has your son and your wife paid the price, but now the whole world will suffer all because of you!
The accusing voices in Joseph’s head pummeled him mercilessly. They had been searching for three days now and Joseph’s anxiety had turned into despondency. His perpetual low-grade self-doubt was now enflamed into a roaring fire. And he was so tired… so very tired. But he couldn’t rest. He couldn’t stop. He felt the crushing weight of the world on his shoulders, a world that needed a savior, a savior he had lost to who knows what fate? His mind spiraled to all sorts of scenarios – his son surrounded by savage men, tearing his clothes, beating him senseless, reveling in their cruelty as his little boy lay in a pool of his own blood. Joseph stumbled and caught himself against a wooden post, cutting his hand. When she turned around and saw him bleeding, Mary came back, tore a piece of her veil, took his hand and wrapped it. She could see in his eyes that this pain was nothing compared to the agony in his heart.
She touched his cheek, now wet with tears. The dam had broken, and his sorrow flowed out. Through Joseph’s mind paraded all his failures one by one:
You couldn’t find your pregnant wife a safe, sanitary place to give birth so she had your son in a stable.
You could never bring yourself to change the baby’s soiled clothes.
You snapped at little Jesus for losing one of your tools.
You so rarely found a way to be emotionally available to him.
You have no idea how to prepare your son for life, much less prepare the Son of God.
“I’m sorry Mary… I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”
Mary held Joseph close, not knowing what she could say to ease his pain. She looked up and saw the temple in the distance.
“We cannot find him Joseph, but maybe God will.”
She helped Joseph stand to his feet, but his head did not lift. It couldn’t. Mary was going for prayer; Joseph was going for sentencing. She led him through the streets as they walked a slow deliberate pace. No more tears flowed from Joseph’s eyes. Tears were for men who had hope.
They climbed the stone steps to the temple and entered through the massive stone doorway. The outer court was buzzing with the noises of animals and merchants – the same merchants that exploited them a few days earlier. Joseph was enraged to see how they mistreated everyone, especially the foreigners coming to worship God, but today he had no capacity for righteous indignation. All of that was gone and he fully expected he would face a divine judgement far harsher than theirs. Above the noise and clamor and pushing and shoving, Mary and Joseph knelt in a corner of the outer court and Mary pressed her lips against Joseph’s ear.
“Out of the depths we cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear our voice. Let your ears be attentive to our cry for mercy…”
A familiar noise fluttered through the crowd and floated by the two anguished parents – a noise that sounded too good to be true. Joseph felt blood return to his arms and legs again and he stood up. Mary heard it too. They waited for it to happen again. It was so hard to hear amid the clamor of cattle and cheats. Their hands tightened around each other. They waited… And then it came. The laughter they knew in their bones!
“HE’S HERE!” Mary exclaimed as her and Joseph now ran side by side through the crowds, calibrating their trajectory with their ears and their hearts. They ran with such focus that they did not notice they were pushing themselves past respected teachers as they burst through the crowd and finally beheld their son! Mary ran and grabbed the twelve-year-old boy and kissed him, scolded him, then kissed him again. Joseph fell back, as a man who had seen his son resurrected before his eyes. He slowly walked forward and put his hand on his wife’s back.
“That’s quite a son you’ve got there.” Joseph turned to see a teacher about Joseph’s age standing next to him.
“He’s been here talking with us for a while now. A very insightful young man! He was asking questions that I hadn’t even considered before! I’d like to keep talking with him if you’re ok with that.”
“Thank you sir.” Joseph managed to speak. “But it’s time I took my son back home.”
“Well next year if you all come through I’d like to talk with him again. Ask for Nicodemus.”
Mary held Jesus tightly as they left the temple, and as they made their way down the steps, the darkness slowly started clouding Joseph’s thoughts again:
You’re taking the Son of God home to Nazareth?
Doesn’t he belong in the Temple?
Wouldn’t he be better cared for by these men – holy men who could stimulate his intellect, not roughen his hands with work?
Train him in the Tora, not in toil?
Doesn’t the Son of God deserve better than you?
Joseph’s head began to lower again, until a smaller hand grabbed hold of his. He stopped walking as his son stepped into his view and looked up at him. The boy looked confused for a moment, then as if he saw something behind Joseph’s eyes that he began to understand, he placed his hands on each of Joseph’s temples. Joseph stared back at his son, but somehow he was not just his son. Somehow it was like staring faintly into the face of God. And God was not looking at him with the hatred that he had for himself. Oh, none of his failures were hidden, yet there was no condemnation. Only love. The love of a Father to his son, and the love of a son to his father in the same gaze. The darkness in Joseph’s mind faded and he was able to look up again.
He kissed his son’s head and said, “Alright my boy, let’s go.”
“Yes dad.” said his son and they walked down the road towards home together.
The featured artwork, “Joseph and Jesus’ Hands,” is courtesy of Adam R. Nettesheim and is used with his kind permission for Cultivating.
Adam wanders through the arts as a vagabond. Though he “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for” he seeks to pull on the golden thread that has been woven through our stories, trusting that it leads Home to the Author of our souls. Adam and his wife Sarah have 3 children and live in Northern Colorado. His writings (and a few other things) can be found at his website.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
Enjoy our gift to you as our Welcome to Cultivating! Discover the purpose of The Cultivating Project, and how you might find a "What, you too?" experience here with this fellowship of makers!