For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).
At 2:00 pm on Saturday, March 20, 2010, my husband of 19 years, Robert Allen Reed, passed away in Accra, Ghana. On Friday, he felt fine. On Saturday morning, he woke up early, having a difficult time breathing. We rushed him to a nearby hospital, but unfortunately, every needed machine was not working that day, and he passed away just four hours after arriving.
My daughter, Hannah, was 16 years old. My son, Noah, had just turned 15.
The three of us were stunned and devastated. When we returned to our home after saying our goodbyes to him, we were met with dark skies and a powerful thunderstorm, as if God himself was expressing his sadness over Bob’s death.
We cried and cried. We sat in silent shock. There was not a lot to say.
The next afternoon, my son Noah came to me as I cried. He put his hand on my arm and said, “Mom, I think it’s time we move on.”
I remember that his statement made me smile. I wanted to reply, “You don’t mind if I have 48 hours, do you? Or maybe a week? A month? A year?” I knew he was trying to comfort me. He wanted his mom to be okay even though her world felt anything but okay.
As I have reflected on Noah’s statement over the years, it has made me smile.
At least that was the effect his words had on me until 2019 when I suddenly saw Noah’s words in a very different light.
A Perspective Change
I was in Cameroon leading a Discipling Marketplace Leaders Foundational Workshop. As part of this event, we reflect on the family role that Jesus had as the eldest son of a carpenter. While I listened to my colleague teach, a lightbulb went off.
Let me explain.
The last time Joseph, the father of Jesus, is mentioned in Scripture was when Jesus was twelve years old. Scholars assume that he died sometime after that. Mark 6:3 quotes the people of Nazareth saying this about Jesus:
Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?
This text is an account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, around the age of thirty. Joseph’s absence is palpable in this verse. He is no longer part of the family. Jesus is referred to as the carpenter and Mark lists four brothers by name and a number of sisters.
I tried to imagine what it was like for Jesus when Joseph passed away. I assume that maybe he was a similar age to my son, Noah. That’s when Noah’s words struck me quite differently. His words reflected a young man who was seeking to take care of me, his mother. His words conveyed a certain weight now placed on his shoulders.
A New Role
In the years that followed, Noah behaved with a gentleness and care toward me that would have been unusual for his age. Prior to Bob’s death, Noah spent evenings in his bedroom doing homework or playing games on his computer. But after Bob’s death, Noah didn’t want me to be left alone. He began to spend every evening in the living room with me.
Noah was not born into a family where the oldest son is culturally expected to take the role of the father in his absence. Yet instinctively, he stepped up on his own.
Jesus, however, did grow up in such a culture. It was expected that the oldest son would take on the role of the father and assist the mother, a widow, in providing for the family and raising his siblings.
Given Mark’s account, we can assume that there were at least six siblings younger than Jesus. Jesus was responsible for a family of at least seven children, with a single mother and no father.
Our Daily Work and Our Daily Bread
After Jesus’ bar mitzvah in Jerusalem at the age of twelve, his apprenticeship and work in the carpentry shop would have begun in earnest. He would eventually train and mentor his brothers in the business. Jesus was responsible for pricing, customer service, marketing, cost analysis, maintenance, and bookkeeping—all in a day’s work for the young shopkeeper. Like the Proverbs 31 entrepreneur, Jesus would have made sure that his trading was profitable as there was a family to feed.
Did Jesus ever hit his thumb with a hammer? Or get a splinter? Certainly he did, since his experience as one “growing in wisdom and maturity” in all areas would not have shielded him from the mundane troubles of the job. He was fully God and fully man.
Did he ever have struggles with his brothers in the carpentry shop? I’m sure. They certainly were not perfect. I can easily imagine these young men taunting him, saying, “Who put you in charge!?”
Did he ever struggle with customers who did not pay? Did he ever have to “repossess” a table? Over the course of eighteen years as a carpenter, Jesus would have had to deal with difficult customers. After all, he had a business to protect. He couldn’t be giving things away as there were at least eight mouths to feed.
Did Jesus ever worry about going home at the end of the day because he did not have enough money to give his mother for their daily bread? Did he worry about having what his family would need for their flourishing? Did he weep over the absence of his father and struggle under the burden of this heavy load? Did he worry about helping his sisters get married off properly?
Jesus, Our Role Model
Jesus is always the perfect role model, in joy and in sorrow. Despite the loss of my husband, our son still had a heavenly father and an earthly role model for hard work, family care, and the yoke of responsibility.