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RETURN FROM EGYPT. PART 2When Christ had reached his twelfth year, his parents, freed from apprehension on account of Herod, took him with them to Jerusalem. They departed in a body from Nazareth; and then, as they travelled along, the Hebrew pilgrims divided into small companies, according to age, sex, and family relationship or intimacy.
Around the Virgin were Mary of Cleophas, sister-in-law of Joseph; another Mary, designated in the gospel by the name of altera Maria; Salome, the wife of Zebedee, who came from Bethsaida with her sons and her husband ; Joanna, the wife of Chus, and a number of Nazarenes of her family connexions and neighbourhood. Joseph followed them at some distance, conversing gravely with Zebedee the fisherman, and the ancients of his tribe. Jesus walked amidst some young Galileans, whom the gospel, according to the genius of the Hebrew tongue, has called his brethren, and who were his near relatives. 1
Among this group of young men, who went before the rest, were distinguished the sons of Zebedee: James, impetuous as the lake of Tiberias on a stormy day; John, younger even than Jesus, whose sweet countenance, by the side of that of his brother, seemed to personify the lamb of Isaias, living in peace with the lion of Jordan. Next to the fishermen of Bethsaida, whom Jesus named later on Boanerges (sons of thunder), were the four sons of Alpheus; James, who was Bishop of Jerusalem, an austere and grave youth, with long flowing hair, a pale face, and a cold and mortified appearance. Proud of being devoted as a Nazarene, he gave himself airs of offensive superiority over him whom he then considered the son of the carpenter. The virtues and imperfections inherent in the soil were seen in his character; an unshaken firmness, inclinations upright and religions; hut at the same time a strong contempt for all that had not sprung from Abraham, and an excellent opinion of himself. Jude, Simon, and Jose, the other sons of Alpheus, were youths of rough, simple, and warlike appearance, already arrived at adolescence, and who looked upon the son of the humble Mary as their inferior in every way—a thing which they had a difficulty in shaking off afterwards, as we see in the gospel. 2 And what of Jesus ? Jesus pretended to nothing, neither to devotion, nor austerity, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, because he possessed the plenitude of all these things, and people usually affect what they have not.
To have seen him, simply attired as an Essenian, his long hair, of the colour of antique bronze, 3 parted over his dark forehead, and gracefully flowing over his shoulders, one would have taken him for David, at the moment when the prophet Samuel saw him come, little, timid, and in the dress of a simple shepherd, to receive the holy unction. There was, however, in the brown, soft eye of Christ, 4 something more than in the eye of his great ancestor, full as it was of poetry and inspiration; something penetrating and divine was discovered in it, which laid bare the thought and sounded the depths of the heart; but Jesus veiled at that time the brilliancy of his look, as Moses did his radiant brow when he came forth from the tabernacle. He walked along, conversing sensibly, but suiting his conversation to his age, with his young relatives according to the flesh, whom he intended to make his apostles; he discerned beneath their rude exterior, the weight and value of these rough diamonds, who were one day to shine with so great brilliancy, and he loved them in their future career. His expectations were not disappointed ; these men, who, like the rest of their nation, had had their dreams of gold and power in connection with the Messias, at his voice cast off all their prejudices, both national and religious, to adopt a doctrine calumniated, the principles and promises of which, like the maledictions of the old law, spoke of nothing but sufferings to be endured, and persecutions to be undergone. They bound themselves to him by chains so strong, that neither the princes of the earth, nor cold, nor nakedness, nor famine, nor the sword, could separate them from his love; they walked in his footsteps, trampling courageously on the thorns which the world strewed in their path, and suffering themselves to be treated like the refuse of the human race. They were not ashamed, either of the Son of man, or of his gospel, or of the foolishness of the cross! Why should they ? It is for impostors to blush, and the apostles never preached but from their own intimate conviction. These upright and guileless hearts gave to their testimony all that could render it credible and sacred among men; they abandoned everything, suffered everything, forgave everything, and sealed with their blood the gospel of their divine Master. 5
But at the time of which we are speaking, these heroic virtues were not even yet expanded, and these youthful Galileans little thought that they should one day give their lives in support of the divinity of their travelling companion. At the end of four days' journey, the pilgrims reached the Holy City, whither an immense concourse of foreign Jews flocked together. 6 The family of Joseph and Mary assembled to eat the paschal lamb, which the priests had the charge of immolating between the two vesper hours, 7 in the court of the temple; to this they added unleavened bread, wild lettuces, and whatever appertained to this ancient ceremony. The days of the feast being over, the relations of Christ assembled to return to their province. As they returned in the same order in which they had come, the holy couple did not at first perceive that Jesus was missing. Mary thought he was with Joseph, or with the two named James; Joseph, for his part, thought he was with his young relations, or with Mary. In the evening, the several companies assembled together, and the Blessed Virgin sought, but in vain, for Jesus in the crowd of travellers who arrived in succession at the caravansary; no one knew what had become of our Saviour. The grief of the two holy spouses was inexpressible. "The deposit of heaven, the Son of God! " muttered Joseph, sorrowfully. " My son! " said the poor young mother, with a voice drowned with tears. They sought him all night, they sought him all day, calling after him along the road, calling out his name in the woods, looking anxiously down the precipices, sometimes fearing for his life, sometimes for his liberty, and not knowing what they should do if he was lost. They re-entered Jerusalem, ran to all their friends, and weary with going about the quarters of that great city, they at last made their way into the temple. Underneath the portico, where the doctors of the law were, was a child, who delighted the ancients of Israel by the depth of his understanding, and the clearness of his answers to the most difficult questions; they gathered round him, and every one was in admiration at his precocious and miraculous wisdom. "It is either Daniel or an angel," they said, at a little distance from the afflicted Virgin. "It is Jesus! " said the young mother, pressing forward towards the place where the doctors were. Then, coming up to the Messias with the expression of extreme tenderness, which in a manner extinguished the last reflex of sorrow: " My son," she said, sweetly, " why hast thou done so to us ? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing! "
The child was effaced before the God; the answer was dry and mysterious. "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Fathers business?" The holy couple kept silence; they did not at first understand the meaning of the answer of the Messias.
Jesus rose up and followed them to Nazareth; his perfect submission to their will speedily effaced this slight cloud. " And his mother kept all these words in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and age, and grace with God and man.
1 St. Epiphanius and St Bernard inform us that in these journeys, the men went in companies separate from the women, and that St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin were in different companies, which was the reason why they did not feel uneasy at first at the disappearance of Jesus, and did not perceive it till the evening, when all the travellers assembled together.—(See also Aelred, abbot of RievaL, Serm. seu Tractatus de Jesu duodeni, Dom intra oct. Epiph.)
2 S. John Chrysost., Serm. 44.
3 The rabbins have taken occasion from the colour of the hair of Jesus, to give way to malicious declamations against him ; but what is extraordinary is, that they utter against him precisely the same reproaches as they do against David. " He was red like Esau; he had his blood upon his head; the soul of Esau had passed into him.'' They have forgotten nothing but the evil eye with which they favoured the prophet king.
4 Niceph., Hist. Eccl., t. i. p. 125. His portrait of our Lord, traced after tradition, is the most authentic which has come down to us. The Rev. Mr. Walsh, the author of quite a recent book, devoted to rare or unpublished monuments of the first age of Christianity, has just called our attention to a very curious medal, known as early as the fifth century. The obverse represents the head of our Lord, seen in profile; the hair is parted after the manner of the Nazarites, smooth as far as the ears, and flowing over the shoulders: the beard thick, not long, but forked; the countenance handsome as well as tho bust, over which the tunic falls in graceful folds.
5 Pascal has said, "I willingly believe these histories, whose witnesses expose themselves to death."
6 The feast of the Passoyer collected together at Jerusalem as many as two million five hundred thousand persons.—(De Bello, lib. vii. c. 17.) Cestus, wanting to persuade Nero that the Jewish nation was not so contemptible as he believed it to be, had the people numbered by priests. At the feast of the Pasch, there were slain two hundred and fifty-six thousand six hundred lambs ; there was a lamb for each family.
7 That is, from noon or one o'clock till sunset.—(Basn., t. v. liv. vii. c. 2.