Gateway to the Classics: The Highlands of Galilee by J. Paterson Smyth
The Highlands of Galilee by  J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson II

Early Days

St. Luke II. 40‑52.

LAST day we thought of the tremendous thing that had happened. The Lord coming down to us from Heaven as a little baby Boy. Very God with the flesh of Very Man wrapped round His Godhead, to grow up amongst us as a man that we might in some degree understand and know and love Him and learn the kindly heart of God towards us.

§ 1. The Virgin Mother
"Pondering in Her Heart"

Now Joseph the carpenter and the Blessed Virgin Mother are back home in Nazareth, bringing with them the Holy Child to be reared up to manhood. How we should love to know the story of His childhood, all the delightful little things that mothers love to tell about their children. But I suppose God thought it best that we should not know. The Bible draws a veil over the incidents of His childhood and we are only told that "the Child grew and waxed strong in spirit and the grace of God was upon Him and daily He increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man."

I do not think His mother understood till long afterwards the Great Mystery in which she was taking part. She knew that her child was the destined Messiah, that God had some great purpose for His life. But she could not have known then the tremendous fact that it was the Lord from Heaven in human form that she was carrying in her arms. She only learned all that later on. Else how could He be brought up as a natural human boy? How could she have dealt with Him at all as her child? The thought of His Divinity would have overwhelmed everything and made it impossible to treat Him as human. The family life would have been impossible, inconceivable. The purpose of His Incarnation would have been frustrated that He should become like unto His brethren and grow gradually in human thought and consciousness that He should be Very Man as well as Very God.

No. She could not have known then. She must have been often puzzled. The Gospels repeatedly present her as observing and marvelling and pondering over the events of the Childhood. They suggest a quiet, reticent woman wrapped in loving reverent thought of her mysterious Child, solemnised by the memories of His miraculous birth; seeing the high destiny before Him but not knowing how it should be accomplished, and therefore often puzzled; noting intently the strange things that were happening, trying to fit them into her ideas; thinking and wondering and holding her peace: "Mary kept all these sayings and pondered them in her heart."

§ 2. Children in the Market Place

So we think of Him as a natural human boy in a natural human family in that village home in Nazareth by the carpenter's shop. I have been trying to picture Him to myself in that little world. I have hanging in my study a large photograph of Nazareth and its surroundings where I can see the identical mountains and valleys that He saw and the very fields where He walked and the little mountain town nestling white against the dark hills behind.

And so one can in some degree picture His boy life. It needs an effort to pass from thinking of the Eternal Son "whose goings forth are from of old from everlasting" to thinking of and trying to visualise a little Boy in Nazareth going on messages for His mother and sweeping up the shavings in the carpenter's shop—to see Him among the "children playing in the marketplace" the games of the unchanging child world such as our children play to-day. I love to think of Him playing in the marketplace. It brings Him so close to our own children's lives. I came one day on a delightful discovery about this. Just as you hear the children to-day singing in a village street "London Bridge is broken down" and "Round and round the mulberry bush," so two thousand years ago you might have heard the Nazareth children calling to their fellows:—

We have piped and ye not räkedtoon

We have mourned and ye not arkedtoon.

And Jesus remembered that rhyme of His childhood and quoted it one day in a solemn discourse, "Ye are like the children crying in the marketplace"

"We have piped unto you and ye have not danced

We have mourned unto you and ye have not wept."

You cannot make it rhyme in English or in Greek, only in the language of the Nazareth children which at once suggests the rhyme of a children's game. I shall never again hear village children singing in the marketplace without thinking of that rhyme and the Child Jesus at play.

§ 3. The Child's Education

One likes to think of His religious teaching—of the sacred hours when Mary put her Child to bed, teaching Him his prayers, telling Him of the Father, with the absorbing thought in her heart of the great destiny before Him. How He would go to the synagogue school of the town taught by the country rabbi. The Jews of that day set great importance on the school where the children learned for hymns the simpler psalms, for history the Old Testament stories of God's dealings with Israel. One wonders what sort of man was the old country rabbi who had the teaching of Jesus. Longfellow in the Golden Legend pictures the scene:—

Come hither, Judas Iscariot,

See if thy lesson thou hast got

From the rabbinical book or not:

*     *     *

And now little Jesus, the carpenter's son,

Let us see how thy task is done.

When He could read, the chief, probably the only books He had, would be those of the sacred Scriptures where He learned the very stories that we have of Abraham and Jacob and Joseph in Egypt and the great prophets who taught Israel of holiness and sometimes gave them glimpses of a great Messiah to come.

And I think all the world around, the beautiful Book of Nature would be always teaching Him about God. One feels that a special consciousness of the Father was always with Him. And so as I look at my Nazareth photograph I think of the Boy wandering over those same hills and fields seeing the Father's flowers and birds and beasts and delighting in them and loving them and feeling that the Father in Heaven also delighted in them and loved them. In all His references to Nature afterwards He makes you feel this. God is behind it all, interested in it all. God loves the little lambs sporting in the fields. God watches the poor sheep going astray. God feeds the birds of the air which sow not, neither do they reap. God sees the little sparrow fallen out of the nest. He decks for His pleasure the wild flowers of the hills so that "Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

What a lovely thing a child's religion might be if he could learn it rightly as Jesus would, with the thought of the kindly Father pervading it all. Surely Jesus was a happy child in that free, simple boyhood in Nazareth before the consciousness of the world's pain and sin began to press upon His heart.

§ 4. "When He Was Twelve Years Old"

I think we are justified in letting our thoughts dwell lovingly on the childhood of Our Lord. But remember little has been revealed. There is only one break in the long silence as to His early days. We read that Joseph and Mary went up every year to the Passover, and when He was twelve years old He went up with them to the Feast (Luke ii. 41).

Surely for the Boy a time to be remembered. His first sight of sacred Jerusalem. His solemn thoughts as He entered the stately Temple, the House of His Father, the centre of Israel's worship all the world over, the vast crowds, a million of Jews from every nation under Heaven come together with one intent—to worship the Father in His holy Temple. And then the rabbis. Here was His young soul thirsting for knowledge, starved, perhaps, by the ignorant old rabbi in Nazareth. Here were the great teachers of the nation—the men who knew! We learn of the Boy's intense interest in the teaching and the questions He asked, until at last the rabbis began to notice Him and get interested in Him and finally to "wonder at His understanding and answers."

I wish we knew what He asked them. I wish we knew more about the matter altogether. But the story has probably come through His mother and she only came in at the close looking for her lost Child. We read that she reproached Him for the anxiety He had caused by His absence and then we have the first recorded words of Jesus, "Why, mother, how is it that you are surprised? Should you not expect to find me here occupied in the things of my Father in the house of my Father?"

"And they understood not the things which He spake unto them. But His mother kept all these sayings in her heart." You see she did not understand. And the Boy had to think out His thoughts alone. The beginning of the loneliness of Jesus.

We do not understand either. It looks as if it were a crisis in His young life. Maybe the slumbering instinct of the Eternal was awakening in the Child, lighting up the dim consciousness in Him already that He was somehow different from those about Him, from the children He played with and the parents who reared Him. If so it gives more emphasis to the next little statement. "He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject unto them." Which brings a lesson for us all. We might well feel that such high thoughts and high happenings would make the monotony of village life distasteful. But the Divine Child had learned and hereby teaches us that simple obedience and dull occupations may be still more high and holy in the sight of the Father. For Him at present that daily life was "His Father's business." For He was only twelve and the simple obedience of the home life was doubtless the best preparation for His future. No unnatural stimulation should be His, no precocious growth, no flattery or admiration. He was to grow to manhood unnoticed, unknown. His life was to develop naturally, normally, wholesomely.

§ 5. The Carpenter

So the curtain falls again upon His life. For twenty years more He lived unknown, working as a carpenter in Joseph's workshop. We believe that when Joseph died and the lonely widow had sobbed out her grief in the arms of her beloved Son then He had to work on to support His mother. "Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary?" We dare not try to follow the great thoughts stirring in Him as He wrought at the bench all day or climbed in the evening the Nazareth hills, contemplating in solitude the mystery of His future or staying as in later days on the mountain top "continuing all night in prayer to God."

Thus we leave Him till His great call came.

Questions for Lesson II

Did Jesus remember in later life the time when He played with the children in the marketplace?

Can you tell anything about His religious education?

What could He learn from Nature around Him?

Tell fully what happened when He was twelve years old.

Why is He called The Carpenter?

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