Monday, 19 March 2012

A Sword for the Heart of St Joseph

The sword spoken of by the prophet Simeon, on the occasion of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple – the sword that was to pierce the heart of Mary – was surely not the only sword. St Joseph was also to receive a blow to his heart; but unlike Our Lady’s, his sword is not referred to specifically.

St Luke provides us with the dramatic account of the disappearance of the twelve-year-old Jesus, at the end of His family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His distressed parents, after three days of searching, discover Him in the Temple, among the teachers, who are astounded at His understanding.

Mary: “Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been looking for You anxiously” Or, to use another translation, which I think has more impact, “Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee, sorrowing.”

Jesus: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” Or, as I recall from another version. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

There are a few things I’d like to consider in this exchange. Firstly, it gives a strong impression that Mary and Joseph had not told Jesus about the uniqueness of His origin. Jesus seems to have been raised as an ordinary child of ordinary parents, being brought up to love Joseph in the most natural way, as His father. They gave everything else into the hands of the Lord, to reveal in His own good time.

After three days of desperate worry, having lost not only their beloved son but the precious child entrusted to them by God, Mary and Joseph find Him in the most unexpected of places: among the doctors of the Law. Not only this, but discussing holy matters with them, and, to cap it all, more than holding His own, and amazing these learned men with the breadth and depth of His knowledge.

Our Blessed Lady, in her understandable distress, speaks to Jesus of her bewilderment that He should have done such a thing to her and to St Joseph. How could He cause such sorrow to His mother, and to His father?

Here I am going to make what may appear to be a slight digression. I understand that some scholars of the New Testament take the view that Jesus did not know Who He was: at least, before this or that point in His life. I’m no scholar of the Scriptures, merely a reader, but this doesn't ring true to me. I have the impression that while there are certainly passages in which - to use the best expression I can think of - He seems to hold a veil between His earthly mind and His divine consciousness, there are many others in which Our Lord Jesus speaks as though He clearly knows exactly Who He is. I feel sure that the incident of the finding in the Temple is the first recorded manifestation of Jesus’s knowledge of Himself; a manifestation which must have come as a jolt to Mary and Joseph.

“Thy father and I have sought Thee, sorrowing.” “I must be about My Father’s business.” This from a twelve-year-old boy, whose distraught parents have just found him after three frantic days of searching. I think this must have pierced their hearts; and on this occasion most poignantly the loving heart of Joseph, who was the best of earthly fathers to Him, and would continue to be so.

Picture from, via Google Images