The Bible is a remarkable book both in what it reveals and also what it leaves to our collective spiritual imagination. For example, the creation story and the rescue of species from the worldwide floods lists a few “kinds” of animals that God created and preserved, but the record of nature’s salvation is far from complete. There only broad mention of the zillions of kinds of insects in this world, for example. Information about how Noah and the ark were able to provide food for creatures like tropical hummingbirds that specifically depend on flowering plants evolved by length of blossom to the length of the hummingbird’s beak is somehow missing.
And talk about your tough journeys. We all know doing a full Ironman is a tough task, but imagine how hard it was for a pair of blind cave salamanders from the caves of Kentucky, USA to get to the ark perched on dry land in the Middle East. That would mean the salamander would have to have crawled across the eastern seaboard, swum the Atlantic Ocean, scuttled across the deserts of Northern Africa, climbed on board the ark, lived for a year or in a wooden aquarium supplied with fresh water, crawled back out when the deluge was over, swam back across a tumultuous ocean likely filled with rotting corpses of human and sub-human detritus, and crawled back home into that Kentucky or Tennessee cave to breed.
But it’s funny. There’s not a word about all that in the Bible! Remarkable, isn’t it? it would have been an inspiring tale to include, indeed.
About The Life of Jesus
But here’s a real biblical mystery: We do not seem to know squat about what took place in the life of Jesus between the ages of 12 and 30. So we are about to fill in the gaps…
Jesus in India
There are many academic and conspiratorial theories about what Jesus did during those important “lost” years of self-development. Because after amazing the folks at the temple with his early grasp of scripture and holy writ, Jesus disappeared from biblical view for some eighteen years. Some speculate he traveled to India, engaged in spiritual enlightenment training and came back with a brain full of insight to share with the world.
I personally don’t find the notion out of context at all. Those “three Wise Men from the East” who came to visit Jesus in his early youth brought “gifts” of some sort. They are listed as gold, frankincense and myrrh, but like many things in the Bible, those might not be meant to be taken literally. The “gifts” could well have been invitations to learn about aspects of the world that humdrum existence does not offer. Otherwise, why did Jesus teach so many lessons in parables using everyday objects to teach spiritual lessons?
Jesus the Carpenter
The more “traditional” take on the youth of Jesus is that he served as an apprentice “carpenter” under his father Joseph. That’s a pretty quaint take idea, just like the depiction of the Nativity where Mary and Joseph are surrounding with critters and the Three Wise Men. It’s all based more on romantic notions and people filling in the gaps with conventional thinking than an expression of any real knowledge about what really happened in the life Jesus. We also see plenty of nativity scenes with Santa Claus or Frosty the Snowman keeping the Baby Jesus company. Are we also supposed to take that as a literal communication of fact?
But poor use of symbolism hasn’t stopped Bible-lovers from extrapolating certain aspects of scripture to “prove” what Jesus did all those years between the age of 12-30 years old. Here’s a great little synopsis from GotQuestions.org. Notice how fluidly the rationalizations flow from the tongue of this conventional thinker:
Question: “Was Jesus a carpenter?”
Answer: There is every evidence from Scripture that, before He began His ministry, Jesus was employed as a carpenter. His earthly father, Joseph, was also a carpenter, which means that Jesus was likely His father’s apprentice. It is bizarre to think that God Incarnate was taught to build things by a human man, but it seems that in this, as in all other aspects of His earthly life (e.g. he cavorted with prostitutes) Jesus submitted Himself to the humility of being fully human (Philippians 2:6–8).
People called Jesus a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and He was known as a carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55). There is some evidence that the Greek word used for “carpenter” (tekton) could also be translated more broadly as “artisan,” “contractor,” or “handyman.” It is possible, therefore, (editor’s note: everything’s possible) that Jesus and Joseph were the sort of men you call when something needs to be fixed—be it made of wood, stone, or something else. (Jesus was a ‘fixer?’ What is this, the Holy Mafia?)
It is also possible that they acted as civil engineers, (which weren’t invented yet) even designing bridges or other structures that were needed by the people of the town. (Did Jesus also run for Mayor?) This throws an interesting light on Jesus’ later comments about the temple. As they were going past the temple, His disciples, perhaps knowing of His interests and past profession, pointed out the grandeur of the great buildings. Jesus told His disciples that those structures would all be thrown down (Mark 13:2). In addition to being a prophecy, Jesus’ words were perhaps a reminder of the importance of the spiritual over the physical. (It never gets easier, you just go faster…)
All this practical application and “working for dad” stuff is great if you buy that Jesus arrived at his deep level of symbolic wisdom by working for his spiritually cuckolded dad by sawing and hammering pieces of wood together. We all know there is much to be learned from our fathers, but when it’s so hot outside that you can’t think and your own dad is barking at you to hurry up and get that lumber over to the job site, there is also the possibility that you will tell your father to “go fuck off” under your breath and swear that you’re going to leave town at the first light of dawn.
Which explains why Jesus probably did take off to India. He needed some “me” time and India was just right up the Silk Road. Besides, those of us who worked summer jobs in carpentry or slaved away in cheap-ass factories earning pitiful money to pay for college know better. The only thing those jobs like those actually get you is pissed off and tired. Even Jesus wouldn’t humble himself to that nonsense. He was smarter than that.
40 days in the wilderness
So Jesus probably took off a few “gap years” and got his proverbial shit together studying with people who were smart and capable in the ways of the world. When that mind work was all done, he came back to his roots in the Middle East and got serious.
But there was still one more venture to undertake. When Jesus came of age, he retreated to the wilderness to engage in a 40-day period of deprivation. And like clockwork, the likes of Satan showed up to tempt Jesus with literalistic promises of power and glory. Jesus saw straight through these supposed shortcuts to godlike status and declined Satan’s legalistic offers.
Oh, that Adam and Eve been wise enough to figure out Satan’s game. He was playing them fully with the same sort of literal promises disguised as the actual word of God in order to trick his prey into sin.
Genesis 3: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
What a snot rocket of a philosopher, that Satan. Turning the literal Word of God into false promises is not nice. But isn’t it interesting that a long history of religious zealots from leaders of the Catholic Church to televangelists have used the very same legalistic language to gain power for themselves. That’s actually why Jesus fought so hard against the religious authorities of his day. John the Baptist called them “hypocrites” and a “brood of vipers.” But the zealots and the political harlots they favored had them both killed anyway. That’s the real lesson of the Bible and the Gospels. Beware all those of claim to be on the side of God.
Jesus the Triathete (Get it?)
So lacking any better explanations for the Lost Years of Jesus, the table is open to explain what transpired for the Lord and Savior between the ages of 12 to 30.
There is something tantalizing about the idea that Jesus took off those 40 days of deprivation in the wilderness. Doesn’t that sound a lot like a training camp of sorts? It was actually preparation to prepare for his ministry, but like a coach with a hidden training agenda, Satan had a set of spiritual workouts in mind.
After his psychological prep in the wilderness, Jesus showed up at the River Jordan to be immersed by John the Baptist. As we’ve learned, the Bible keeps things short for a reason. So we’ll never know for sure if Jesus just took a dip or swam a full two miles as the first leg of a full Ironman. And if Jesus walked on water at an Ironman event, would he be disqualified?
The First Cyclist
We do know that Jesus covered a lot of miles on foot. But who is to say that he wasn’t the beneficiary of some sort of early version of the bicycle? If he was an able carpenter it would have been easy enough for Jesus to create a self-propelled cart to pedal from town to town. The need existed. The towns back then were often pretty far apart with dangerous desert roads between and bandits looking to steal everything you’ve got. So having a bike and being able to pedal it faster than a man could run would have been a handy deal. The Son of God was surely capable of that. He was likely the First Cyclist.
And running in those Huarache-style sandals with the straps up the ankles would have been pretty cool too.
So what I’m saying here is that I think we know what Jesus did during all those “lost” years. He was in physical as well as spiritual training for the trials to come. And how do we know that Jesus started it all? Well, the evidence is clear in that the “trinity” of swimming, riding and running to this day remains a tradition on par with a religion.The The will to suffer is a big part of endurance sports and most religions. The Son of God was also known to endure suffering better than most. Perhaps we actually have Jesus to thank for that.
And the final bit of evidence that Jesus might have been a triathlete is documented in the sign that Pontius Pilate put on the top of the cross where Jesus hung to die. It said “King of the Jews.” Pilate was simply giving props to the Strava segment Jesus earned while carrying his own cross to Calvary.
So you can go on out there and suffer with the best of them. Jesus was a great example for us all. And who knows what enlightenment you might find along the way. Even St. Paul saw the light on the Road to Damascus.