Born in a manger in Bethlehem, the town associated with the name of David, the most glamorous of the Jewish kings, and reared in the village of Nazareth, Jesus grew up in a humble family. From the hills back of Nazareth a commanding view could be had of the plain of Esdraelon, crammed with history, and of snowy Hermon. From what we know of his later years, we may be fairly certain that Jesus often climbed these hills and, always sensitive and observing, fed his soul on the beauty around and below him and thought deeply on the life unrolled before him.
We catch very few glimpses of Jesus until, when about thirty years of age, he began his public career. From the names of his brothers which have come down to us, we gather that the family cherished the Maccabeean tradition and were loyal to the Jewish faith. That the household was deeply religious is borne out by many bits of evidence — the account of the conception and birth of Jesus in The Gospel according to Luke, much of which could only have come from his mother, Mary; the other narrative of his birth, in The Gospel according to Matthew, which was presumably, at least in part, from Joseph, his reputed father; the delicacy, beauty, and deep religious feeling of the nativity stories, especially those in Luke, which appear to reflect the character of Mary and Joseph, notably of the mother who, we are told, "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart"; the fact of the relationship of Mary to the mother of John the Baptist and to that earnest little household, dedicated completely to God; careful compliance with the Jewish law in circumcision and in the ceremony of consecrating Jesus to God in the temple, as Mary's first born; the welcome given the Infant on that occasion by members of the circle of the devout who were looking for "the consolation of Israel" and the "redemption of Jerusalem," folk who were quietly waiting for God to bring about the consummation of history expected by faithful Jews; and the custom of Mary and Joseph to go every year, and not semi-occasionally, to Jerusalem to the feast of the Passover. We are not surprised that Jesus formed the habit of going to the synagogue, that he learned to read, that his chief reading was in the sacred books of his people, and that, even at the age of twelve, he had meditated profoundly on the issues raised by them. Since, after Jesus began his public life, we hear no mention of Joseph as living, we may assume that he had died and that Jesus had been left to earn the living for his Mother) It is, indeed, conceivable that the delay in entering upon his itinerant ministry was due to his feeling of responsibility for shelter and daily food for the dependent members of the family.
It was a stirring day and a stirring section of the world in which to live. The Roman Empire had only recently been established. It is part of the familiar Christmas story that Jesus was born during the rule of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus C^sar. His own little corner of the earth was seething with unrest against Roman domination. Not far from Nazareth the city of Sepphoris was being rebuilt during his boyhood after its destruction by Roman forces to quell one of the recurrent uprisings. During the adult life of Jesus resentment against Rome was mounting and within the generation after his crucifixion it was to break our in a mad revolt which was to end in enormous slaughter and in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. The unrest was accentuated and in part was given direction by apocalyptic hopes with their accompanying expectation of direct intervention by God on behalf of the Jews. In these hopes the dream of a Messiah loomed prominently.
Now and again we can gain hints of what Jesus may have been thinking in those hidden years at Nazareth. The parables in which he couched so much of his teaching may have embodied some of his observations and reflections as he viewed the scene about him — farms which he knew as he watched from the hill-tops the clouds march inland from the Mediterranean and drop their rain regardless of whether the owners were good or bad, evidence to him of the impartial love of God for all men; a woman seeking for a lost coin; children playing in the market place; a king going to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, perhaps an echo of the journey of the Herods to Rome to ask for confirmation of their claims; a pearl merchant; and the father and the two sons, the younger errant but appealing and the elder correct but forbidding. Then, too, must have been acquired the familiarity with the sacred books of his people which Jesus later displayed.
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