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“Where Did This Man Get All This?” (or “The 18 Unrecorded Years Life in Jesus’ Life ”)

Over the last two Sundays, we have watched Jesus grow up. First, from the child who returned to Nazareth with Mary & Joseph from their sanctuary-years in Egypt…to the precocious 12-year old who confronted the priests and teachers in the Jerusalem Temple…we’ve seen a little boy become a young man. Jesus has discovered what he is meant to do. Jesus has "come of age."

But now that Jesus has realized the task for which God has sent him into the world –namely, to tell the people about God, to show them who God really is, and to bring them to God’s love (apart from the stifling rituals and rules of their religion) –he still has a problem: when should he begin?

If Jesus begins his ministry too soon (say, at age 13), he will have neither the acceptable gravitas of "adulthood" nor the necessary preparation in life for such a task. But then, if Jesus waits too long, he may never begin at all. Isn’t that something we all have had to confront? Having experienced (in the Temple during the Passover when he was 12 years old) what God was calling him to do, Jesus still had to await the right time to set out upon his saving work.

Jesus was 12-years old when the revelation came to him regarding what he should do, but he was 30 when he actually began his work (see Luke 3:23). That leaves a gap of 18 years!

Eighteen years is a long time for someone to wait before launching out into the world with their chosen vocation. And because there are no records in the Gospels about what Jesus did during these 18 "missing" years –these 18 "silent" years –a great deal of speculation has tried to fill in the gap.

There are those who say Jesus went with John the Baptist into the wilderness, perhaps to the Essene community in Qumran near the Dead Sea… learning an alternative theology to what was taught and performed in the Temple, a radical form of righteousness, a militant eschatology. There are others who say that Jesus traveled to India to learn a Hindu spirituality, or to meet with followers of the Buddha. 18 years of instructionin Eastern yoga, meditation, and self-emptying disciplines would certainly have softened Jesus’ Jewishness and social activism!

The Latter Day Saints believe Joseph Smith’s proposal that Jesus actually came to America and ministered among the Native American Indian tribes. In other words, there is no limit to the kinds of speculations about what Jesus did during those unrecorded 18 years of life –between age 12 and age 30.

Frankly, I think it is much more likely that Jesus’ real life experiences were far less esoteric and revolutionary than that.

I suspect that those 18 "silent" years were spent close to home, in preparation for the task Jesus felt called to do. He was paying attention to the details of home-life & social relationships.

I think Jesus was learning the basic knowledge and skills that would equip him for his calling –as must we all. (Right? )As we heard two weeks ago from Luke: Jesus "increased in wisdom and in stature" (Luke 2:52). He learned to read, for example, because the day would come when Jesus would be invited to read the Scripture from the prophet Isaiah & comment upon it.

There was a village school in Nazareth to which Jesus would have gone. And in that school, there was a Rabbi (a teacher) or two, whose names we will never know, who taught the Son of God about the Law & the prophets & the writings of the Bible. I just want to say that many a teacher is doing a work far greater than she (or he) even realizes! Jesus had teachers.

He was also learning to do a good day’s work, for (as this morning’s Scripture reading makes obvious) Jesus was primarily known as a "carpenter" in Nazareth. Long ago, the Church Father Justin Martyr (in his Dialogue with Trypho, 88) wrote: "Jesus was in the habit of working as a carpenter when he was among men [sic], making plows and yokes."And there is an old legend that Jesus of Nazareth was known for making the best oxen-yokes in all Galilee. People came from far and wide to buy the yokes that Jesus made. When Jesus said "My yoke is easy" (Matt. 11:30), the word he used ("chrestos, in Greek) actually means "well-fitting". So, it’s possible that the sign above Jesus’ carpenter shop may have been an oxen-yoke with the slogan painted on it: "My yokes fit well."

When Jesus came to his church in Nazareth, the memberslooked at one another as hespoke… "Is not this the carpenter? –The son of Mary & Joseph?" And then they named Jesus’ four brothers and his sisters, shaking their heads all the while. Mark tells us "they took offense at him."I suppose it is because they knew Jesus too well. They knew who he was--warts & all --this Jesus of Nazareth. He had grown up there for 30 years!

Well, what do we know about him? We who have heard about (1) his birth in a barn in Bethlehem; who heard about (2) his flight into Egypt as an asylum-seeking refugee from King Herod, and (3) eventually settling in Nazareth, where Joseph (Jesus’ father) was a worker --a tekton, in Greek--a man who made things with his hands (a manual laborer, a carpenter).

This much we know. But let me tell you something more about this "carpenter" business.The Greek word for Joseph’s profession –one that Jesus apparently followed for thirty years –is "tekton."It is usually rendered into English as "carpenter"–implying a lowly place in contemporary society. A common laborer; a construction worker.

In preparation for today’s sermon, I went back to my faithful "Anchor Bible Commentary" on Mark (vol. 27, Mark, by C. S. Mann, Doubleday & Co., Inc., NY: 1986, page 289) where the word "tekton" is rendered "craftsman."The Greek word has a wide range of meaning (writes Christopher Stephen Mann), from ship building to sculptor, but nearly always implies a person of considerable skill, and can even be used of a physician."Anyone who uses their hands to produce a beneficial improvement is a tekton… (!)

So, far from being a simple village carpenter–engaged in making plows and yokes (which any peasant of his time was capable of producing), Joseph may well have been a builder of some competence, traveling over large areas of the country –to include assisting in the building of the new Capitol City of the Galilee –Sepphoris--only five short miles away from Nazareth.

William Barclay (the late, great preacher and Bible teacher from Glasgow, Scotland, whose "Daily Bible Study" series is my favorite resource) writes that "a tekton was more than a

carpenter; he was a craftsman who could build a wall or a house, construct

a boat, or make a table or a chair, or throw a bridge across a little stream. …

[They] could turn their hands to any job. In their hands, wood and metal and

stones became obedient, and such was Jesus. …

"Jesus could never have lived the life he did live had he not been physically

equipped for it. In those days, a carpenter did not buy his wood from the

sawmill or from the [Home Depot] wholesaler. He went out to the hillside,

chose the tree, swung his axe, cut it down, and carried it home on his

shoulder. Certainly Jesus was no weak and anemic person; he must have

been bronzed and weather-beaten." (The Mind of Jesus,1960, Harper &

Row, pages 9-10)

The Aramaic word "naggara" (which would have been a "tekton" in Galilee’s local dialect) ranged in meaning from a maker of furniture to a builder of buildings, with many associated skills in between. Such skilled craftsmen were "itinerants"–ready to move to where the next building project was.

This reality of random mobility for the carpenter’s trade made it quite likely that Jesus was not immediately recognized when he came back home to Nazareth. The city was a hub of itinerant workers passing through… immigrants, migrants, day-laborers, aliens and sojourners.