For about twenty-two years I have taught boys who are around the age of twelve. Some call twelve-year olds the princes of boyhood for they stand between the realms of boyhood and manhood. It is a small personal tradition I have that when a boy turns twelve I ask him, “When is the only time in scripture when we hear the age of Jesus?” Sometimes they know, but most can’t recall that moment.
We read of Jesus’ age when He leaves His mother and father during their visit to Jerusalem. He stays behind in the temple, as they leave with the caravan. While mom and dad are losing their minds with worry, Jesus is conversing with the elders about the mysteries of the faith, and they wonder where He gained such wisdom at a young age. He was twelve-years old.
For some reason, this is the only time we hear about the age of Jesus in the Gospel. And what actually happens at this age, not only in the Jewish faith, but in Jesus’ life, and in most cultures throughout the history of time? Twelve is the age when a boy begins to see beyond the familiar, beyond what has been given to him, to the adventure that lies before him: the adventure of manhood.
In Jesus’ life, twelve is the age when He publicly recognizes that His mission is tied to His Divine Sonship. I think this is important because it is the age when boys are trying to discover who they are in the context of their current situation, and the talents, gifts, and ideas God has given them. So, in my humble opinion, it is the age when adventure begins to beckon these boys to step outside the comfortable confines of a scripted life, to one where their abilities and mettle will be tested.
This is an exciting time, but also a very difficult time for boys, because it is also an age when they yearn for brotherhood, and yet sometimes feel lost and alone. They sense that they are leaving behind a realm where they are currently the princes, the head honchos, the leaders of the lost boys, and are entering a realm where they feel small and at times unwanted, or not needed. I like teaching boys at this age because I want to help them keep the innocence and wonder of their boyhood, while guiding them along the adventurous and hard road to manhood.
In every man, no matter how callused and grizzled by the years of toil and misadventure, there is the heart of the boy he once was. This is why some of the most moving scenes in stories are when an older man is moved to tears upon seeing something from his boyhood that he loved, something that moved him, and once opened his heart and imagination to the reality that the world is good, true and beautiful.
The wandering warrior with all his strength and bravado must rely on the loving heart of his Father in heaven. This is a great lesson men must relearn when they grow up: how to be a child again. Such a strange life this is. As soon as we think we have made it, we find the road continues on; as soon as we discover our strength, we must learn to be meek; as soon as we gain knowledge, we must learn that all we know is but straw; as soon as we discover our gifts, we must give them away; as soon as we learn to love with our whole heart, our heart must be broken; as soon as we learn to live, we must die. Indeed, a strange life is this adventurous pilgrimage to Heaven.