Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Hidden Life of Jesus

Over the years I have reflected upon the first 30 years of the life of Jesus lived in Nazareth. These years are typically called "the Hidden Years at Nazareth." I am reminded every year of these Hidden Years by the Feast of the Holy Family (this past Sunday) in the Christmas Season.
The time of Jesus’s childhood and youth in Nazareth is called "hidden" because we have no information about these years. What marks these years at Nazareth is how ordinary the life of Jesus was before his baptism at age 30 and the beginning of his public ministry from that time.
Young Jesus in the Carpenter's Shop
He was referred to as a carpenter’s son and a carpenter himself and we assume he worked a carpenter’s job with Joseph. He would have lived by manual labor; he would have worked every day except the Sabbath when he attended the synagogue; we are told he could read, which is not something one could assume in his economic class; he would have celebrated the religious festivals and events of Jewish life–such as weddings, funerals and the Jewish holidays (his family traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover each year (see Luke 2:41); and he would have shared family meals and life in the simplicity of Nazareth, which was such a backwater town that there was a saying; "Can any good come out of Nazareth?" (See John 1:46. Nazareth may have had less than 500 residents at the time of Jesus; today it has a population of 210,000)

Artist Rendition of 1st Century Narareth by Wm. Holman Hunt 1827-1910
The birth of Jesus is recorded by Matthew and Luke as anything but ordinary; but then, when the family located to Nazareth, we are told nothing more about Jesus, except for one story (Luke 2:41-52), until he begins his public ministry. In those Hidden Years he presumably did not teach anything. He performed no miracles. He didn’t seem to stand out in anyway. We can be fairly certain of this because when he did begin to teach and perform miracles, his own family and townspeople were surprised. They thought they knew him, that he was a carpenter’s son only, and yet now he does things he apparently never did before. (See Mark 6:1-3 HERE)
In that one story of childhood (besides the infancy narratives) found in the Gospel of Luke (2:41-52), the twelve year old Jesus shows awareness that God is his Father; but he returns with his parents to Nazareth and Luke 2:52 simply says "And Jesus grew in wisdom and age and grace with God and men."
I derive encouragement from these Hidden Years of Jesus. It tells me that our ordinary lives, our ordinary work and family life, our lack of doing anything particularly extraordinary, is also a sharing in the life of Christ. I am not condoning under-performing or not seeking excellence when achievable; but most of our lives are ordinary and also grace-filled, as were those first 30 years of Jesus’ life. Prior to the extraordinary aspects of the life of Jesus foreshadowed by his conception and birth, the ordinary days of Jesus were how he grew in grace for 30 years.
I think of my life and ministry. A typical day for me is performing the ordinary tasks of my priesthood. For example, I celebrated an early Mass today, prayed, worked on some parish matters, did a funeral, met with a couple preparing for marriage, met with a family to prepare another funeral, went to visit some parishioners in Nursing Homes, and so the day went. Nothing dramatic, nothing that would be published in the news, but those things were important to the people involved and it is important that I stay close to Christ in order to be grace-filled in his "ordinary" service.
The same for each of us. There is something very rich to be discovered in the Hidden Years at Nazareth.