This is the week of the hidden life of Jesus. No, that is not an official Church designation, but if we follow the liturgical calendar in which this past Sunday was the Feast of the Three Kings and next Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, then this week covers about 30 years of Jesus’ life. The only Biblical reference to these years is in the Gospel of Luke which tells of the holy family’s sojourn into Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old. On the way home, Mary and Joseph set off without him, thinking no doubt that he was with other family or friends. When they realize that this is not the case, they are frantic and go rushing back to Jerusalem to find him. They get there, sick with worry, to find a very unconcerned Jesus talking to the teachers in the Temple. When Mary questions him, emphasizing how worried she and Joseph have been, he merely asks, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2: 49) Yes, mothers of pre-teens everywhere can appreciate that answer. Jesus was indeed twelve years old, with all that that entails.
Jesus was a pre-teen, and a toddler, and a seven year old, and a sixteen year old, and everything in-between. As this is the one glimpse that we get into Jesus’ formative years, the rest is left to our imagination. I went to La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts recently. There they had a lovely tableau featuring Joseph working at his carpentry and Jesus helping his mother with her spinning. It is a lovely image and depicts an event that may very well have happened. The simple truth is, Jesus grew up under the loving care of his parents who taught him all that they knew. Mary and Joseph worked to prepare him for the special mission that they knew he was made for, without knowing exactly what that mission would involve. Like all parents, they tried to do the best that they could. No doubt, like all parents, they probably questioned whether they were doing the right thing, if they were making the right decisions. They trusted in God, trusted in the plan, even if they didn’t really understand it.
The fact that we know so little about about Jesus’ hidden life is a blessing for parents everywhere, because it means that we can imagine it to be however we need it to be. We can imagine Jesus as a sick child when our children are sick. We can picture Jesus learning the faith at Mary’s side as we struggle to teach our own children. We can see him helping with chores or playing in the mud or kicking the ball with his friends as we watch our children do those same things. We can imagine him discovering new things about the world around him and coming to understand his unique role in the world as we watch our own children figure out their place in the world.
We may never know for certain what happened in those hidden years in Nazareth, but we do know that Mary and Joseph and Jesus were a family, a family like yours or mine, living each day, trying to figure it out as they went along. They lived and worked and loved and laughed and cried together. They lived in anonymity as most of us do. They were simple people living a simple life. As we journey through our own days of parenthood, we can look to them for strength and encouragement and example. We can follow in their hidden footsteps.