When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

At the Age of Twelve

Every year, Joseph and Mary went on a long journey. They set out in the early spring-time, when the leaves were green and the blossoms were pink and white, and before the days grew hot. First they walked a long way to the east, till they came to the river Jordan, on whose banks they pitched their tent and spent the night. Then they turned to the south, following the course of the river all that day and the day after, and avoiding the country of the Samaritans; for the Jews and the Samaritans were enemies. The third night they slept in Jericho. The next morning, turning to the west, they began to climb the hills, along a rough road which was shut in on each side by steep walls of rock. So they came to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, and a little farther on, at a sudden turn of the way, they beheld Jerusalem. That was their destination.

On this annual journey, Joseph and Mary had many companions. Indeed, it would not have been safe for them to go alone, for the roads were beset by robbers. Even between Jericho and Jerusalem men sometimes fell among thieves, who plundered and beat them and ran away leaving them half dead. People who went on journeys were therefore accustomed to travel in companies or caravans. Joseph and Mary, when they started on their long walk, would have many of their friends with them. Half of the people of the place would be going on the same journey; and on the way other groups would join them, coming out of other villages and bound in the same direction.

For every year a great festival was held at Jerusalem, called the Feast of the Passover. It was kept in remembrance of the delivery of the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The people were slaves to the Egyptians, and one night a plague of death fell on the houses of the masters; in every house somebody was dead. But the destroying angel passed over the houses of the slaves. That night the slaves rose up, and escaped out of Egypt. So they became a nation. The Passover was the national birthday. The Fourteenth of Nisan,—for that was their name for the month,—was like our Fourth of July. It was accordingly the custom to keep the Fourteenth of Nisan, and all the following week, as a national holiday. But instead of keeping the festival, each in his own home and town, all the people, as many as could get away, gathered at Jerusalem. Of course, there were many who had to stay behind, to mind the babies, and tend the stores. But there were great numbers, like Joseph and Mary, who were able so to arrange their affairs as to go on the spring pilgrimage.

One can easily see that they must have had a merry time of it. Briskly they walked in the early morning along the pleasant ways, stopping to drink out of the brooks which ran among the hills, resting and sleeping at noon in the shade of the woods, talking cheerfully one with another, meeting new people, and seeing new sights. Thus they journeyed, like the Pilgrims of the Canterbury Tales. Sometimes, as they pitched their tents at night, or started in the morning, somebody with a strong voice would begin to sing, and all the others would sing with him. The Psalms from the one hundred and twentieth to the one hundred and thirty-fourth were pilgrim songs.

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,

From whence cometh my help.

My help cometh even from the Lord,

Who hath made heaven and earth."

So they sang beside the mountains.

"They that put their trust in the Lord shall be even

as the Mount Siou,

Which may not be removed, but standeth fast for ever.

The hills stand about Jerusalem;

Even so standeth the Lord round about his people,

From this time forth for evermore."

That was the song when the holy hills came into view. Finally, they joined in a great glad chorus as they entered the city itself:—

"I was glad when they said unto me,

We will go into the house of the Lord.

Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built

As a city that is at unity in itself.

For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord,

To testify unto Israel,

To give thanks unto the name of the Lord."

Of course, on so long a journey it was impossible to take the little children. They must wait at home till they were old enough and strong enough to go on this wonderful pilgrimage and see the sights of the wide world. Until then they must be content to listen to the stories of their fathers and mothers about their adventures by the way and the splendors of the holy city. But now, at last, our Lord was twelve years old, and his time came. Out they started in the coolness and beauty of the spring morning, making their way down the valley by the river, and sleeping at night in tents under the full moon; for the Passover always came when the moon was full. So he stood presently on the side of the Mount of Olives and gazed on the great city.

Jerusalem was built on hills, and had a high, stout wall of stone about it, with a tower at every turn. Within the walls were crowded the white, flat-roofed houses, clinging to the terraced hillsides. And above all shone the splendid temple. To the temple the pilgrims made their way, Joseph and Mary holding Jesus by the hand. Entering by a great arched gateway, they found themselves in the temple inclosure. This was a wide court, paved with stone, and surrounded by four high walls. Against the walls on the four sides were porches, their roofs upheld by pillars. The court was crowded with people; some of them being pilgrims like themselves, while others were engaged in carrying on a noisy trade, selling doves and lambs for sacrifices and changing money, calling out at the tops of their voices. In the midst stood the temple itself. A great stairway of fourteen steps led to an entrance which was called the Beautiful Gate. This opened into a large room, without roof, called the Court of the Women. Here Mary waited, while Joseph and Jesus climbed another stone stairway to a room called the Court of Israel. This was separated by a low barrier from a third room called the Court of the Priests. Standing beside the barrier they could see a large stone altar, and behind it a stone building with a porch and a roof. In this building, hidden behind doors and curtains, were two rooms, one called the Holy Place, in which stood the golden altar of incense; and the other called the Holy of Holies, an empty room, through whose floor jutted up the bare rock of the top of the hill. There in the Court of Israel they offered a lamb for their sacrifice. A priest took the lamb and killed it, burned a part of it in the fire which was blazing and smoking on the stone altar, and gave the rest to Joseph. So with the lamb upon his shoulder Joseph, taking Jesus, rejoined Mary in the Court of the Women, and they all betook themselves to the place where they were to stay, and where with friends and relatives they had arranged to eat the Passover Supper. Then they all sat down together when the evening came, and the roasted lamb was on the table, and there were bitter herbs, and bread and wine. And at an appointed moment in the meal, Jesus as the youngest of the company said, "What does this service mean?" And his father in answer told the story of the Passover. Then they all sang songs: which we have in our book of Psalms, from the one hundred and thirteenth to the one hundred and eighteenth.

"This is the day which the Lord hath made;

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Help me now, O Lord:

O Lord, send us now prosperity.

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord."

Then there was a week of visiting, and seeing sights, and going to services in the temple; and so the festivities were over and they started to go home. A great many other people, thousands of them, were starting at the same time, and there was much confusion. But at last they got safely out of the city gate and over the Mount of Olives on the way down hill to Jericho, when they missed Jesus. They had noticed, of course, that he was not by their side, but that had not surprised them. He was twelve years of age, a sturdy, independent lad, and in the caravan there were many whom he knew, some of them his relatives. So they said, "He is with his cousins or some other playmates. We shall see him when it is time for supper." But supper-time came, and even bedtime, and he did not appear. Joseph and Mary went about in the dark, with torches, asking all their neighbors where he was; but nobody knew. At last, with heavy hearts, in deep distress, they hurried back again along the road to Jerusalem, seeking him.

But Jerusalem was a very large city; and just then, as we have seen, it was in confusion, with crowds of people coming and going. Joseph and Mary went to the place where they had lodged, but he was not there. They inquired of all the people whom they knew, but could find no trace of him. One day had already been spent in going as far as Jericho; another day in returning; it was now the third day. And the King of Glory, who had been so solemnly and wonderfully intrusted to their care, was nowhere to be found.

At last, they looked in the temple. There in one of the porches was a company of people sitting on the floor, as the custom was, and listening while wise men taught. The teachers were called doctors; not doctors of medicine, but doctors of divinity, teachers of religion. And in the midst of the gray-bearded doctors, not only hearing them but asking them questions, was the child Jesus, while all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when his parents saw him they were both glad and amazed; glad to find him after their long search, but amazed that their son, this little lad of Nazareth, should be sitting so serenely in the midst of those learned people, understanding what they said.

christ in the temple


But the boy had done wrong, so they thought. He had caused them great distress. And his mother said, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." She reproached him, with tears in her eyes, as mothers must. But he answered, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I would be found in my heavenly Father's house?" He meant that they should have known him better than to search for him from street to street. They should have looked first in the temple.

It shows what he had been doing all that week, while other boys were gazing at the shop windows, or admiring the bright uniforms and shining lances of the castle guard. He had spent his time in the holy house, attending to the words of the wise; like the child who loves to get away by himself with a book.

It shows, too, that already he had that habit of attention which is a part of greatness. When he was interested, he thought of nothing else. By and by, we shall see him thinking so deeply that for a long while, even for days, he forgets to eat. Now he forgets what time it is, and how his father and mother are starting off for home. All his mind is on the words of the wise men. That was different from the ways of James and Joses and the others. His father and mother could not understand it.

But he turned about and took their hands and went away between them, and so came to Nazareth again and took up the old life. Every day he did just what they wished him to do. Every day he learned his lessons, and said his prayers, and did his work, growing tall and strong; and everybody loved him.