Saturday, 5 May 2012

Growing pain

Luke 2:46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

What do you imagine Jesus was like as a kid? If you remember back to your class, say towards the end of primary school or maybe the early days at your secondary school, what was that class like? Can you remember many names? Who were the characters, and why? There's the one who always got in trouble, and deserved it, and the one who always got in trouble and didn't. There was the one no-one liked, though for no objective reason. They were like the scape-goat, who carried the blames and anxieties of everyone else. There were the bright ones who wished they were one of the popular ones, and the popular ones who,.. well, who liked being popular, but maybe weren't bright enough to realise how fickle popularity can be. And there was you. Where did you fit? Did you fit?

So, if one of your classmates was going to grow up to be the saviour of the world, which one would it be? Or to put it another way; what was Jesus like as a kid?

Islam also has an important place for Jesus. In their story of his nativity they have him talking words of prophecy and wisdom even whilst in the crib! This echos a Moslem view of the Koran as complete and without variation; the complete package that cannot be changed; God made, not manmade. So their Jesus arrives in this world with all the wisdom and knowledge of the adult prophet. For me, that's probably the greatest difficulty Islam faces as it rubs up against modernity: Its theology of revelation has left it with precious little room for manoeuvre.

I have a sneaking suspicion that more than a handful of Christians have a rather Islamic understanding of Jesus. It's reflected in a lot of religious art and statuary. There's Jesus, physically a child yet displaying adult behaviour and understanding. Now, if the art depicts Jesus this way to suggest the man this child would grow into, his as yet unrealised potential, then I have no problem I guess. But if the art intends to deny to Jesus the ability to be a child and to be childish (nothing wrong with a child being childish, it's with adults that problems arise) then, for me at least, it undermines the validity of the incarnation. What I mean is that God doesn't become human just to twiddle his thumbs for thirty years and then die in a salvic blaze of glory, but becomes human to raise humanity to what it was supposed to be through the simple and ordinary act of being human.

(As a footnote: I have visited many chapels and shrines in my week in Jerusalem, each dedicated to a specific part of Jesus' story, some central, some rather more marginal in significance. I can't find anywhere that commemorates him going to the toilet or picking his nose, but I'm sure there would be a spot in the market for it. I'm just struggling to imagine the religious tat the nearby stalls would sell.)

I began this blog entry with a quotation from the Bible and a photo that provoked today's entry. I was wandering around the Wailing Wall last night just before Shabbat and saw this scene. A Rabbi takes time from his personal devotions to instruct the children in the traditions and meaning of their faith. The children are like children everywhere; one studies studiously, separate from his classmates, one gazes into the distance - distracted or contemplating, I know not which - one appears to be asleep. They could be my classmates from all those years ago. Which one could be Jesus?

When Joseph and Mary found Jesus with the teachers in the Temple it would have been a scene not too far different from this. A little group huddled together to learn. They find that he is impressing the teachers with his questions and understanding. We've often read this in a Koranic sense, that Jesus has adult, or even greater than adult, understanding. But all that the language of that scripture stretches to is that Jesus was impressive for a child his age, and the teachers, like teachers everywhere, we're responding positively to a bright child who wanted to learn. I wonder if Jesus ever sat in Torah class wishing he was less insightful are simply more popular?

As the story continues: Luke 2:52 And as Jesus grew up, he increased in wisdom and in favour with God and people.

Second footnote: Photography is my hobby, but it's also a way of seeing. Sure, most of my photos are no more than holiday snaps, but I do try at times to go a little further than that. A website I have found inspirational is . It contains lots of helpful tips and nerdy stuff, but it's the home page I like best. It holds one picture and a quote. The picture changes every few days but the quote remains the same, and I would like to share it with you because I believe it contains a worthwhile world view: "Stare, it is the way to educate your eyes. Pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." Walker Evans.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. "This was the culture Jesus grew up in, a Jewish culture.Yes,he changed it,but always from his starting point as a Jew.Now when I find myself wondering what Jesus was like as a teenager,I think of Jewish boys I knew in Chicago . And when the thought jars me,I remember that in his own day Jesus got the opposite reaction.A Jewish teenager,surely-but the Son of God?" From Philip Yancey The Jesus I Never Knew.

  2. Thank you. I think some of the negatived reaction to Jesus when he began his ministry was precisely because he was such a promising Jewish lad, and then he had to go and throw it all away on some fools errand involving the sort of people God shouldn't be see near with.

  3. I don't think things have changed much then. Today there is still a view that those who serve God full or part time are giving up "a better life".