273. Jesus and Joseph

I have a mental image that I would convert into a painting, if I had the skill. I don’t. I can draw; I can paint; but I lack the spark that turns such work into art. It’s frustrating — I’ll have to make do with words.

Imagine the interior of a carpenter’s ship, two millennia ago, somewhere in the middle east. Research won’t help much on this one. The best you can find is a painting from the European middle ages, or the Japanese middle ages, and then you have to reason backward with few facts to help you.

There will be two figures in the painting, and of course, you already know who they are. Joseph is planing a board he has just riven. Jesus is sweeping the floor. From time to time their glances meet, but there is little conversation.

If you have read many of these posts, you know I am not a Christian, but I started out as one, and Biblical images live in my bones. I have always wondered at the strangeness of the Son of God growing up apprenticed to his human father. And I’ve wondered how Joseph must have felt about it all.

Joseph gets little respect. Catholics give their affection to Mary. Protestants ignore him altogether. The ancient Cherry Tree Carol sees him as an insensitive doubter who thinks Mary is carrying another man’s child.

I have also wondered how Jesus must have felt. Even if you believe he was God, he was also a boy, with a child’s limitations, trying to understand his human father.

So . . .   Joseph and Jesus are in the carpenter’s shop. Jesus is sweeping the floor, since he is not yet trained. HIs father is planing the board he has just riven. Jesus looks up from time to time. There is affection in his gaze, even though he knows that his father’s love is limited by Jesus’s own strangeness. Then he drops his eyes back to his sweeping.

Joseph looks up in turn, stern and a little puzzled by the child’s silences. His hands pause a moment at his work. A traditional picture would fill his eyes with wonder. I don’t think so. I see them filled with frustration and resentment. And yet, with affection. The two sides of the moment are at war in his eyes. Then he draws back his hands and the plane moves through another stroke, because, for God or for man, there is always work to do.

Father – it’s a tough job description. Son isn’t much easier.

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