Advent Reading – Day 10 – Jesus and the fatherless
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
I’ll admit that this is an odd passage to be reading during Advent… a time when we are focused on Jesus’ coming and His promised return. Yet, I think this passage gives us insight into an event that not only shaped Jesus’ life, but that also has a profound impact on how we view Jesus’ ability to understand our difficult circumstances. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “15We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” Hebrews 4:15 This verse has brought great comfort to so many and enhances our understanding of what it means to have “God With Us,”- “Immanuel” and that God become flesh and made his home among us in Jesus. Yet, I think there may be something deeper to take home from Jesus’ experience in His life here on earth.
To understand Jesus’ understanding of our reality and His ability to help, we could talk about the depth of His sacrifice and the agony which He endured. We also could talk about the temptations that Jesus stood up against or the ridicule He faced. However, I’d like us to consider something else today. Pain, Difficulty and Loss.
To talk about this is to draw some conclusions that are not explicitly stated in this passage, yet perhaps they are worth considering. You see, this passage is not only insight into how Jesus grew in wisdom, stature and favor, but it also is the final time we read about Joseph. This final mention of Jesus’ earthly father comes at a time when Jesus is a mere 12 years old. This has led many scholars to believe that Joseph passed away as early as during Jesus’ teenage years and more than likely before Jesus started His ministry at the age of 30.
I think this casts an interesting consideration on the depth of pain, difficulty and loss that Jesus is able to understand as well as background into caring for the orphaned, widowed and fatherless. If Jesus Himself became “fatherless” what does that say for the level of understanding he has for the fatherless around us? If Jesus Himself became fatherless even in His 20’s with many younger siblings, how does this echo the reality for millions of those living in the majority world who face the death of a father while they themselves are quite young, still growing and still maturing.
Is it possible that Jesus could have been considered an orphan by today’s definition? Could it be that as the eldest brother Jesus had to take on responsibility for caring for Mary as well as caring for his younger brothers and sisters? Could it be that Jesus truly understands experientially what it means to live as an orphan (or at least the pain caused by prematurely losing one’s father) and the added pain of needing to care for the younger, more vulnerable members in one’s family?
I find this a fascinating concept when I consider the depth of relevance of Jesus’ coming for the orphaned, widowed and fatherless that we see everywhere. “Jesus understands” is no longer some coy phrase, but rather it has teeth that sink right in. Although most of us in the West struggle to grasp the pain that comes from prematurely losing a Father and the difficulties this would bring socially, economically, emotionally, physically and relationally to those already living hand to mouth, Jesus may have fully understood this very kind of difficulty, because He lived it in a situation that much more closely mimics reality in the majority world than it does in the comfort of The West.
Fatherlessness has become the epidemic of the 21st century in most places in the world. In the US divorce and busyness have become the primary reasons for loss of fathers. Some are miles away because the marriage couldn’t work and others are emotionally miles away because of work and pace of life. In the inner-city fatherlessness has reached epidemic proportions – in many areas there just aren’t enough good dads to go around.
Here in Ethiopia there are so many dads that have been lost because of sickness, disease, war, short life expectancy and a lack of concern for the family. Fatherlessness has taken its toll. The strain on a family of the exit of a father for the future of the children is so apparent. In one study done in Addis Ababa by the World Food Programme they found that 93.5% of families living below the poverty line (at that time set at approx. $20/month) were in that situation as a result of the father having passed away. Fatherlessness puts a strain on not just the economics of family, but on all dynamics of family life.
I think it has great significance to consider that while Jesus may have experienced some of these struggles of having lost Joseph, He also gives us the model of who His True Father is. Joseph’s death did not shipwreck Jesus. He already had his focus on God as His True Father when He was 12, which doesn’t make the pain easier, but does provide the bedrock of perspective. Psalms speaks of how God is Father to the fatherless, and here Jesus is proclaiming that truth – whether we have an earthly father who is present or not, we still can be fathered by the True Father. An important truth for to hold on to while also considering a different dimension of all that it means that Jesus is God with us – the One who understands not just in a theoretical way, but in reality. The One who changes everything, for the well fathered, the un-fathered and the fatherless.
This Christmas season may you know your True Father in a deeper way. Would you also consider a challenge of being someone who resembles Jesus to the fatherless in your neighborhood or half way around the world? Would you consider giving of yourself as Jesus has given Himself to you? Would you consider being a father to the fatherless and in turn giving a glimpse of your heavenly Father to some who may never get a glimpse of Him otherwise?
Prayer: Jesus, we thank you that you are God with us. We thank you that you were present to us in your coming, that you are present to us now through your Holy Spirit and that the day of your return is approaching when we will know the fullness of Your Presence for all eternity. Thank you that you know the pain, difficulties and troubles that this world faces not just on a theoretical level, but that you experienced true hardship. Today, be with the fatherless. I know that they are already deep in your heart, but today show me how I may represent You to them. AMEN.