Seven weeks after the Passover, we celebrate in our country the feast of the first fruits, the feast of the start of harvest. So, the eleven of us, together with the women, went to Jerusalem to celebrate it. We arrived in the city of David a couple of days earlier, when the streets were already beginning to be filled by pilgrims with sunburnt bodies who wore crowns of flowers on their heads. As in other times, we lodged at Mark’s house… I remember in those times, after God had raised Jesus from the dead, a strong desire was born in all of us, to know more about his life… It was during one of those nights before the feast of the Pentecost that Mary searched her heart for cherished memories about the first years of the story of her son and which she recounted to us…
Mary: My memories of him?… But how can you be so curious, huh?… Let me see now…. It’s been a long time, and there’ve been a lot of things… I don’t remember exactly and… all right, all right, we’ll have to start with Joseph… That’s right, we’ll have to start with him…
Joseph: Good morning, Mary!… Happy are the eyes that see you…! And happier are these eyes of mine that behold you!
Mary: Here you are again with your ribbings… Oh, Joseph, you’re impossible…!
Joseph: It’s all because of you!… Look, young woman, if I were made of wax, I would melt by your looks alone… But if I happened to be made of stone, it would be the same, anyway. How many times do you want me to tell you this…?
Mary: You’ve said that seven hundred times already, and look, you haven’t melted yet…. So, go on with your style, liar…
Joseph: But of course!… I’ll never stop telling you that you’re the bright star in my dark nights, the healer of my wounds, the shield of my way, the oasis in my desert, the dough of my bread, and the water for my thirsty throat…! Oh…!
Mary: Hey, what’s wrong with you, Joseph? Are you out of your mind?
Joseph: As mad as can be! And blame it on the most beautiful Nazarene lass of this country!
Mary: Nazareth was an insignificant little town…. Smaller than a nut… At that time, I remember, there were four young bachelors…. And there were three of us, young women… I was very fond of Joseph, a bachelor, who was a jack of all trades, who could fix a door, press grapes in the presser and likewise, fit a pair of horseshoes on the mule…. We played together since we were little children. Then, as we grew up, we started to like each other. I remember how both of us blushed whenever we met at the farm and then he began to court me… and he laughed a lot… I laughed even more… My father, Joachim, was also fond of Joseph, because he was a very hardworking man… So, one day, he went to see Joseph’s father… They were going to negotiate for the wedding…
Compadre: Well, my friend, Joachim, I see that these children of ours seem to have a certain understanding…. Don’t you think so?
Joachim: You’re right, compadre. As they say, when a fruit becomes ripe, then the time has come for a man and a woman to be talking of love, as the late Ruben would say…
Compadre: It’s not for anything, compadre, but my son, Joseph, for whatever he is, a little crazy like the rest of our young people these days, is an honest young man… His wife will have an upright man…
Joachim: Look, compadre, this much I can say… My daughter, for all her defects, as no one comes around here perfect, is very proper and as happy as a lark… and so full of grace like no one else is!
Compadre: Well then, there’s nothing more to say, compadre…
Joachim: I got nothing else to say either. Is it a deal?
Compadre: It’s a deal! And may he be damned, who does not comply with it!
Joachim: And may this pair of lovebirds beget as many children as they can, that our house may be filled with our grandchildren, what do you say?
Compadre: Naturally! Say, speaking of children, have your sheep given birth yet, compadre? Mine are about to….
Mary: In a few days, we became engaged. I was fifteen years old then, while Joseph was eighteen….
Joseph: Now there’s no turning your back from me, Mary! Lararara…! I’m as happy as can be! Lararari…!
Mary: After the engagement party, life went on as usual… Joseph got jobs everywhere, in the farm of Ananias or even farther away, in Cana or in Sepphoris… God gave him a hand and, at times, he was lucky. He wanted to save some dinarii for the wedding… I continued with my usual chores: together with my two sisters, I helped my mother, Anne, who was a little indisposed then…. There was always something to do at home, as there were many of us… Everything went on the same, but for me, things had changed. I was no longer a child. I had a boyfriend, and soon, I would be leaving the house… I was very happy then…
A Female Neighbor: Mary, child, you’re very lucky…. This guy, Joseph, loves you so much and is very proud of you… He has only nice words for you….
Mary: He exaggerates a little, you know.
Female Neighbor: Well, he’s not so good-looking, yes, but what he lacks in looks, he compensates with integrity…
Young Woman: Hey, where did you ever get such idea…? Are you saying that Joseph is ugly?… What with that broad back of his like a wall and those eyes….
Female Neighbor: Watch out, Mary, this young woman here might snatch him away from you… Ha! Listen to me, Tina, don’t push yourself too hard, the well never gets dry…. Okay, now, young woman, it’s your turn and your mother is waiting for you.
Mary: I went near the curb of the well and started to pull the rope for fetching water… I don’t remember anymore what had happened…. I saw stars in my eyes and then I didn’t know anymore….
Female Neighbor: Hey, the girl has fainted!
Young Woman: Take her jug, Sarah, and help me take her to the house!…
Female Neighbor: Give her some air… She’s nauseated…. With this heat, it can happen to anyone…!
Mary: Weeks passed and these fits of nausea continued. I didn’t feel well. My legs weakened at the slightest thing… My mother would apply some basil plants on my forehead and give me all sorts of herbal concoctions. But they didn’t help… One day, I realized what was happening to me…. My gosh, how I tossed in my sleep, there were times, I couldn’t even sleep a wink… I prayed fervently to God for help… I remember I wept a lot… I wanted to talk to my mother, but I didn’t have the courage… I didn’t know where and how to start… My God, how scared I was! I was in anguish!… One day, after having mustered all courage, I went to see my grandfather, Isaiah…. I think my grandfather was the oldest man in Nazareth… He lived in a very small hut at the end of the town. In spite of his years, he was sturdier than an olive tree, and he had very few white hairs in that long beard of his… He never wore sandals. He worked in the farm the whole day and at sunset, he would sit at the door of his hut, chewing dates and getting some fresh air… That’s how I saw him that afternoon….
Isaiah: Oh, look who’s coming…! Greetings to you, Mary!… Hey, young woman, your mother told me you’re not well, Is that right?… How’s that, young woman?… Anne is worried about you…
Mary: Yes, I’m a little indisposed…
Isaiah: Just a little? Or very much. C’mon, put out your tongue…
Isaiah: It’s okay. Let me see those eyes…. Red as an apple… I’ve already told Anne to give you some barks of the carob tree… They’re good… I’ve got some here… Take them…
Mary: My grandfather remained seated on the stone. He spat out a seed and smiled at me…
Isaiah: I know you, child… I saw you come out of this world… C’mon, tell me, what is it?… You’re here to tell me something of importance… Am I right?
Mary: Yes, grandfather, but…
Isaiah: Tell me what’s bothering you… God gave us tongues for us to speak with them….
Mary: Grandfather, I don’t think I’m sick, but…
Isaiah: Of course, you’ve been thinking of the wedding, haven’t you? That’s natural, my child. All young women get scared when the time comes…. Everything will turn out fine, you’ll see…
Mary: No, grandpa, it’s not that… I mean, yes, yes, but…
Mary: My God, I couldn’t tell him… My grandfather looked at me with his gray and moist eyes, like the sky on a rainy day, while he kept smiling at me….
Isaiah: What’s the matter then, Mary? Are you too shy to tell me…?
Mary: Grandfather… I… I’m pregnant!
Isaiah: What did you say, child?
Mary: You heard it, grandpa.
Isaiah: Mary, my child!… Why couldn’t this rogue, Joseph, be a little patient? Oh, these young people nowadays!… Why didn’t you tell him to wait till the wedding?
Mary: No, grandpa… I haven’t slept with Joseph… The problem is not with him….
Isaiah: So, with whom, child?… What happened to you?
Mary: I don’t know, I don’t know…. I don’t understand…
Isaiah: Who did this to you, then?… Was it Timothy… the son of Ezekias?… Or Benjamin? These two are naughty boys!
Mary: It’s not them, grandpa… no one… I don’t… there’s been no one…. I don’t…. The truth is, I haven’t slept with any man! I swear it! I swear!
Isaiah: Well, then, my child, don’t weep… Probably you just thought about it… you may not be pregnant at all.
Mary: But I am, grandpa, I am… I feel the child inside me. I’m sure of it.
Isaiah: Are you, really, Mary?
Mary: Yes, I am….
Isaiah: And what did your mother say?
Mary: I haven’t told her… I can’t….
Isaiah: And your sisters…?
Mary: They don’t know… You’re the first to know about it…. Help me, grandpa, help me, please…!
Mary: My grandfather put his hand on my shoulders and drew me close to him….
Isaiah: Let’s see now, Mary…. Those cameleers who stayed in your house, on their way to Sepphoris… Could it be possible that…? That was a few months ago, right?… You know, these men use some strange herbs from I don’t know where… to put people to sleep…. Could it be that someone…?
Mary: No, no, I didn’t take anything… I don’t remember… Well, I don’t think so…. Oh, grandpa, now I don’t even know what to believe…! Help me, please, grandpa!… What will Joseph think of me?… He might refuse to marry me… He might leave me…. Nobody will ever want to marry me, once they find out…. I don’t understand this, grandpa… I’m confused… I swear I did nothing wrong. This I swear!
Isaiah: I believe you, my dear Mary, I believe you… C’mon, take it easy….
Mary: But no one will believe me… They’ll say I’m this and that… I love Joseph, and he’ll leave me… and he’ll never want to see me again…. Oh, I’ll go out of my mind!… Why is this happening to me?… Why, grandpa?… When my friends find out…. They’ll tell me to kill the child… so that no one will know… What am I going to do?… What shall I do, grandpa?
Mary: I cried disconsolately, distraught by the burden of that child I was carrying inside….
With tears in my eyes, I looked up to my grandfather in search for an answer. I didn’t utter anything, but he looked at me with joy and serenity, with a smile I could never forget… It was the same face with which I think God looks at us when we are forlorn and confused… Then, he lifted me from the ground, held me by the shoulders. As I stood, I felt his strength. He was full of hope….
Isaiah: Rejoice, Mary!… Be happy, and weep no more, for the Lord is with you!… No one has died, young woman. On the contrary, a child shall be born, you’re going to have a child… Is there a joy greater than this, Mary?… For every child born on this earth, it is as if God were starting the world all over again… Be happy, Mary, and be not afraid!
Mary: Those words seemed to have come from a distance, a very remote distance, that crossed through the hills and mountains embracing Nazareth… It had taken a long, long time for these words to be uttered….
Mary: But… but, how is this possible when I haven’t slept with any man?
Isaiah: With God everything is possible, young woman. He always has big plans…. You must find what His plans are for you and this child He has given you… Remember Sarah?… With a barren womb, lost hope, and in her ripe old age…. God had made her smile and gifted her with Isaac… Think of Samuel’s mother and that of Samson…. They were barren and never bore fruit. And God remembered them and put a child in their arms…. God is great, Mary, and does marvellous things…. And not only during ancient times but even at present… Didn’t you know that your Aunt Elizabeth, in spite of her age, is also expecting a child…?
Mary: So, grandpa… do you think God has something to do with this?
Isaiah: Of course, young lady! C’mon, say yes to the child, Mary. Bring him to life… Say yes to the Lord… Whatever it may be, every¬thing will be for the good….
Mary: And trembling, I said yes. And God’s breath, the strength of His spirit, hovered over my body, like it was the beginning of the world. My grandfather was teary-eyed when he saw me off…. I went home repeating his words one by one… That day, the flowers of the almond trees started to bloom….
Rejoice, daughter of Zion!
Rejoice and shout out with joy,
daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord your God is in you,
The King of Israel,
a powerful Savior!
Narrating the events of Jesus’ infancy up to the end of his life is not only a literary recourse. It is a way to understand better, the origin of these accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Neither Mark nor John say anything about the infancy of Jesus. One must bear in mind that the gospels were not written in the order of the chapters as we read them today. The account of the passion and death of Jesus was the first to be put in writing. These were followed by the Paschal events – each evangelist had chosen some. It was believed that Jesus’ passage from death to life constituted the essence of the Christian faith. Besides, it was what had remained in the memory of a greater number of people. Lately, the life of Jesus was being structured on the basis of the different stages of his prophetic activities: in Galilee, in Jerusalem, phrases, preachings, healings…. This structure is not the same in any of the evangelists. It was only at the end of the account that Matthew as well as Luke added to the story of the adult Jesus some accounts to show his infancy. This means, what we read first in these two gospels was actually the last to be written. It is very possible that hardly anyone knew about the first years of Jesus’ life, how he was then, or what he used to do. No one of his disciples or the first Christians had been with him during those years. This is so, because until he went to the Jordan to see the prophet, John the Baptist, Jesus’ life was a completely gray area, with nothing special that would make him stand out from among his countrymen in that obscure nook of Galilee called Nazareth. Nevertheless, after proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and most especially after his death and the experience of his resurrection, his disciples understood who Jesus was, what God’s plan was in the history of humankind, what the good news he had announced to the poor really meant. This would arouse their interest to know more about Jesus in whom God had spoken to them in such a definitive manner. At this point, it is possible that only Mary, Jesus’ mother, would be able to respond to this curiosity to dig into old memories. That is why in this account it is Mary who narrates the infancy of Jesus, she who cherished in her heart everything about her son.
In the light of the Paschal events, Luke as well as Matthew wanted to highlight in the period of his infancy not so much the historical events but, from the outset, what was to be the destiny of that child who in time would bring hope to the people of Israel and would give a very decisive push to human history. For this, they had to make use of literary sources that were typically Oriental and biblical. There are angels, signs, prophecies that are being fulfilled, stars, and magi… There is an all “marvellous” setting through which the readers are made to understand who Jesus is from the time of his birth. However, we would fall into a serious error if we took these texts to the letter, because more than history they are theology largely constructed on the basis of the schemes of the Old Testament. In all the episodes about the infancy of this “certain Jesus,” there is a serious attempt to inject real flesh and blood to these texts, which contain valid information for reconstructing history, while trying largely to remove all ornaments that might confuse us and make us see a Jesus much different from the one who really lived among the people.
His infancy, adolescence, youth and practically the early period of Jesus’ maturity are virtually unknown to us. There exist hardly any historical memories that are verifiable. Most of the little things we know are deduced from some information from the gospel, and especially from the environment in which Jesus was raised, which we get to know through socio-cultural studies of that period. It is important to see clearly that Jesus was an unknown little boy, just like many others of his time, a young man who did not dazzle anyone either by his “wisdom” or by his “power,” who “enters into history” when, impressed by John’s preachings, he allows himself to be baptized and responds to the call of God.
Jesus’ infancy helps us see more fully what the mystery of incarnation is. God has revealed Himself to us in the most humble of peasants from a truly miserable farm village almost unknown in a province of ill-repute, of a country exploited by the most powerful imperialists of that period. Jesus emerged from among the poor. Like theirs, his life was anonymous until he began his mission.
In Jesus’ time in most of the countries in the Orient, it was the father who decided the marriage of their daughters. Nevertheless, in Israel, this was valid only before the daughter was twelve years old. Starting from this age, the daughter’s consent was needed in order to conclude the compromise. In any case, the dowry was always the responsibility of the daughter’s father. The amount varied greatly, from one town to another, depending on the capabilities of the family. The engagement period prepared the daughter’s passage from the father’s responsibility to that of her spouse. Sometimes, this would take place when the betrothed was only a six or eight-year-old girl. The average age though, was twelve or twelve and a half years. At this age the girl was already considered an adult. In Israel, women got married very young: thirteen or fourteen years was the common age. The men were a few years older: seventeen, eighteen…
In the cities, there were several cases of marriages with relatives, because, since the women lived a cloistered life, it was difficult for them to have the freedom to meet other men of marrying age. This would not happen on the farms. Men and women worked together since their young years, planting and harvesting, and during which time they would normally nurture their friendship. Besides, in such a small place like Nazareth, it was easy for everyone to know each other.
Marriage was always preceded by engagement which we must not confuse with simple courtship as we understand it at present. Being engaged was prac