Helping a Child to Grow in Godly Wisdom
THINKING people of many nations and backgrounds acknowledge that Jesus was a marvelous teacher and moralist. But did certain things in his youthful training contribute to this? What lessons can today’s parents learn from his family life and upbringing?
The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ childhood. Basically, his first 12 years are covered in two verses: “So when [Joseph and Mary] had carried out all the things according to the law of Jehovah, they went back into Galilee to their own city Nazareth. And the young child continued growing and getting strong, being filled with wisdom, and God’s favor continued upon him.” (Luke 2:39, 40) But there are lessons here for parents to learn.
The young child “continued growing and getting strong.” Hence, his parents were caring for him physically. Also, he was continually “being filled with wisdom.”a Whose responsibility was it to teach him the knowledge and understanding that would be the basis for such wisdom?
Under the Mosaic Law, his parents had that duty. The Law said to Israelite parents: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) The fact that Jesus continued “being filled with wisdom,” and also that “God’s favor continued upon him,” indicates that Joseph and Mary were obeying this command.
Some may feel that since Jesus was a perfect child, his upbringing does not really provide a realistic pattern for the rearing of other children. However, Joseph and Mary were not perfect. Yet they evidently continued to supply his physical and spiritual needs, and they did so despite the pressures of an enlarging family. (Matthew 13:55, 56) Also, Jesus, even though perfect, still had to grow from babyhood through childhood and adolescence to adulthood. There was a lot of formative work for his parents to do, and they evidently did it well.
Jesus at Age 12
“Now his parents were accustomed to go from year to year to Jerusalem for the festival of the passover.” (Luke 2:41) According to God’s Law, every male was to appear in Jerusalem for the festivals. (Deuteronomy 16:16) But the record says that “his parents were accustomed to go.” Joseph took Mary, and likely the rest of the family, on that trek of more than 60 miles (100 km) to Jerusalem for the joyful occasion. (Deuteronomy 16:6, 11) It was their custom—a regular part of their lives. Also, they did not make just a token appearance; they remained for all the days of the festival.—Luke 2:42, 43.
This provides a useful lesson for parents today. These annual festivals in Jerusalem were times of solemn assembly as well as of rejoicing. (Leviticus 23:4, 36) They provided a spiritually uplifting experience for Joseph, Mary, and young Jesus. Today, parents do well to seek similar occasions for their young children to have an exciting change as well as to enjoy spiritual upbuilding. Parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses do this by taking their children to the assemblies and large conventions held at regular intervals during the year. Thus, children may have the exciting experience of traveling and being able to mix with hundreds or thousands of fellow believers for a few days. A father who successfully raised ten children attributes much of his success to the fact that since his baptism as a Christian 45 years ago, he has not missed one session of any assembly. And he has encouraged his family not to miss any.
When Jesus was younger, he doubtless stayed close to his parents during these annual trips to the big city of Jerusalem. However, as he got older he may have been given more latitude. When he was 12, he was about the age that the Jews view as an important milestone in the path toward manhood. Perhaps because of this normal and natural change, an oversight occurred when the time came for Joseph’s family to leave Jerusalem and return home. The account reads: “But when they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, and his parents did not notice it. Assuming that he was in the company traveling together, they covered a day’s distance and then began to hunt him up among the relatives and acquaintances.”—Luke 2:43, 44.
There are features of this incident that both parents and youngsters will recognize. However, there is one difference: Jesus was perfect. Since he was obediently subject to Joseph and Mary, we cannot imagine that he failed to obey some arrangement that they made with him. (Luke 2:52) It is far more likely that there was a breakdown in communication. The parents assumed that Jesus was in the company of relatives and acquaintances. (Luke 2:44) It is easy to imagine that, in the bustle of leaving Jerusalem, they would give their first attention to their younger children and assume that their eldest son, Jesus, was coming along too.
However, Jesus evidently thought that his parents would know where he was. This is suggested by his later reply: “Why did you have to go looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” He was not being disrespectful. His words merely reveal his surprise at the fact that his parents did not know where to find him. It was a typical case of misunderstanding that many parents of growing children can appreciate.—Luke 2:49.
Think of Joseph and Mary’s concern at the end of that first day, when they found that Jesus was missing. And imagine their growing worry during the two days that they searched Jerusalem for him. However, it turned out that their training of Jesus paid off in this crisis. Jesus had not got into bad company. He was not bringing shame on his parents. When they found Jesus, he was “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them. But all those listening to him were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers.”—Luke 2:46, 47.
The fact that he was spending his time in such a way, and his evident fine grasp of Scriptural principles, also speak well of Joseph and Mary’s training of him up to that point. Nevertheless, Mary’s reaction seems typical for a worried mother: first, relief at finding that her son was safe; then expressing her feelings of worry and frustration: “Child, why did you treat us this way? Here your father and I in mental distress have been looking for you.” (Luke 2:48) It is not unexpected that Mary spoke before Joseph in expressing the concern of both parents. Many teenagers reading the account will likely say: “That is just like my mother!”
What lessons can we learn from this experience? Teenagers are prone to assume that their parents know what they are thinking. They are often heard to say: “But I thought you would know.” Parents, if your teenager has ever said this when there was a misunderstanding, you are not the first to have the problem.
As children approach adolescence, they become less dependent on their parents. This change is natural, and parents need to make adjustments to allow for it. Yet even with the best of training, misunderstandings will arise and parents will have their share of worries. However, if they follow the fine example of Joseph and Mary, when crises do arise, the training given will stand their children in good stead.
Apparently Jesus’ parents kept working with him through his teenage years. After the event just considered, he submissively “went down with them” to his hometown and “continued subject to them.” With what result? “Jesus went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.” So this episode had a happy ending. (Luke 2:51, 52) Parents who follow the example of Joseph and Mary, who help their children to grow in divine wisdom, who give them a good home atmosphere and expose them to the fine influences of godly association, increase the likelihood that something similar will happen to their offspring. Such children are more likely to enjoy a happy life as they grow to responsible, Christian adulthood.
a The original Greek here carries the thought that Jesus’ “being filled with wisdom” was a continuous, progressive process.