His eyes burned as he stared at his mother, who met his gaze with a fierceness he rarely saw, but when he did, he knew a storm was about to break if he so much as blinked the wrong way. It hadn’t been his fault. His brother had pushed him. The rest had been mere physics. The earthen jar and its contents covered the kitchen floor. Like a scared rabbit his brother’s eyes jumped from the floor to him to their mother and back to the floor. It didn’t matter he’d been pushed. He was older. He’d heard it a thousand times. His mother’s lips pursed to form the sentence for the thousand and first.
A righteous indignation welled within his small chest. He’d hear it now and for a second time when his father got home. And his father always had a supply of scrap wood close at hand.
The ancient word that reverberated within him was a peel of thunder beneath a lightening-streaked sky: “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
His jaw tightened. A ball formed in his throat. Whispers of rebellion wafted on the late afternoon air.
No, he determined. With all his might he would submit to his much higher Father, the injustice of his family notwithstanding.
James, his brother, stood just behind their mother as she leaned in and unloaded on her oldest son. Tears streamed down his face. James watched, cheeks flushed with shame but obviously glad it wasn’t him this time. The older boy kept his eyes on the floor and his mouth shut. Their mother finished and told her son to clean up “his” mess. James ran outside before she could stop him.
The boy grabbed the broom and began to sweep the shards of broken clay into a pile. With rag in hand, he then kneeled and began to absorb the mess. He heard James laugh from outside. His mother’s eyes bore into him as he worked the floor clean.
It was not the first time he’d cleaned up other people’s messes. It would not be the last time.
Do you see, Father? his soul cried.
The Father remained silent.
He knew it was good to learn obedience—even obedience in the face of the gross disobedience of others. He knew the Father was a kind and loving teacher and that this lesson would serve him well in the future, yet that hardly cooled the fire burning within him.
The boy stood, dirty rag in hand.
“That was your grandmother’s jar,” his mother said, eyes narrowed.
“Yes, mother,” he said, barely above a whisper.
“You’ll finish James’ chores today, and then you’ll go to bed without supper. Is that understood?”
He waited for his mother to give him permission to leave the room. She took a step forward and pulled him close. Her smell flooded his senses as he buried his runny nose in her shirt.
“My sweet boy,” she said, running her fingers through his hair. “Now, go on. Your father will be home soon.”
She took a step back. The boy turned toward the door. He braced for the taunting he’d receive from James at having to do his chores. And he prepared himself to submit yet again to a Father much higher than Joseph.
“And Jesus,” his mother called just as he approached the door, “forgive your little brother. He didn’t know what he was doing.”
Jesus felt a tingle in the middle of his palm. He looked at it and then back at his mother.
“I will, mother. To my dying day, I will.”