What is the Joseph and Mary School of Parenting?

If you took the best child that ever lived, and you wanted to reverse engineer what his parents did, Jesus’s parents, what is the Mary and Joseph school of parenting? What was their method? And so we have really one story really, from Luke Chapter 2 of Mary and Joseph, and the way that they parented Jesus. Now, this story doesn’t reflect particularly well on Mary and Joseph for a lot of modern Western families, right? So if you guys don’t know this story, they were traveling to Jerusalem for Passover, and Jesus goes and hangs out at the temple. And then Joseph and Mary head back to Nazareth where they’re from. And they don’t discover, for three days, that they’re missing Jesus. And they have to run back to Jerusalem and look everywhere until they find him in the temple.

And so a lot of people look at this and they’re like, “What in the world kind of parents are these? How do you not notice that your child’s gone? And how do you lose them for three days?” And this is a really interesting quote that I just read from Robert Keeley about this. He says, “The spiritual life of the family in first century, Israel was not limited to the small nuclear family unit as we see it today. The festivals reminded the people of God’s faithfulness, where national affairs and their celebrations were community events. Both Jesus’s family and the larger community took responsibility for his spiritual development. With American families so isolated from extended family and heritage today, belonging to and connecting with a faith tradition and community takes on a radical importance in giving us and our children the ability to develop our identity, purpose, and direction.”

I think what he’s saying here, you guys, is that what probably Mary and Joseph really cared a lot about and just in their culture, what mattered a ton was identity, and that this was being reinforced by their community and by the extended family. And that was such a strong part of their parenting, that they live life so much, going three times a year, families would travel to Jerusalem for these pilgrimage festivals. This was such a constant and common thing that it made sense why when you have a large family, it wasn’t like you were constantly burning out. You had the support of extended family, the supportive community, and they all were reinforcing the same identities. And so you might look at Mary and Joseph and say, “They’re failures as parents,” but that’s hard to say when you think about Jesus and-

Who they raised.

… his siblings, which are awesome. So maybe they knew something or maybe we’ve lost something in the way that we think about parenting. Maybe we’ve gotten so fixated on the nuclear family, and we’ve really missed out on the other roles that really shape identity in powerful ways. But Jeff, what do you think about Joseph and Mary’s parenting methods?

Yeah, I love it. And I think it goes to show too, that I think sometimes we just think, “Oh, how could they? How did they forget their kid?” And all that. When, like you said, back then, there was actually a lot more trust for the broader community, or the family, or the extended heritage. And so I just think that’s really an interesting thing to think about. They didn’t think that their kid was just by himself, doing nothing or whatever. They just knew that the whole tribe they went with, you know what I mean? And the whole caravan they were with was all, at some level, mutually responsible. So I would almost say, another thing I would say too is to flip that on the parents, not just thinking about your kids, but do you see yourself as responsible for every other kid in your community at some level?

For the shepherding, the discipling, the mentoring, how you act, how you treat people, are you a good example for that extended area of people? Whether it’s family, which it probably was in this context, extended family, or if it’s more just communal, community, our friends. I think that’s really, really important to be thinking about that, that we have such an isolated individualist, privatized vision of that nuclear family, that man, I just think that we run into some roadblocks with that. And so what would it look like to let that vision be a little bit broader and specifically challenging on that reverse version of that, of us thinking about that as parents to other people in the community and how we’re mentoring and how we’re discipling?

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