How often we hear theologians and spiritual orators lamenting from their pulpits that insufficient knowledge exists about the youthful years of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Unjustified are the lamentations. Sufficient is our knowledge. This unrevealing time humbly formulates before our very eyes, an early life’s image, slowly and reluctantly adjaring itself in historical tales and tradition.
What image of Christ does the Gospel sketch for us? In the small distant city of Nazareth, we read in the Gospel, that in an ordinary little house Jesus grew in age. Although, His birth occurred in Bethlehem, the city of David, eyewitnesses of this great and wonderful account were now deceased. Among those who remained living in Jerusalem or Bethlehem news of their whereabouts was soon forgotten. Many thought that this child was amongst those victims killed under Herod’s suspicions.
In Nazareth, no one knew or even suspected that Mary and Joseph guarded these truths in the secrecy of their hearts, not divulging them to anyone because, no one would understand them and they themselves found it difficult to completely decipher. Keeping Her reflections to Herself, the Holy Virgin Mary hardly spoke of these events to Her Son. How could She tell Him? In the meantime, young Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man ( Luke 2: 52).
In such a home dwelled Jesus, where Joseph labored for the well being of his family, Mary’s graciousness filled the home with gentleness and righteous love, while adolescent Jesus, with a heavenly light illuminated it. Undoubtedly, this was a home of faith and piety, angelic purity, and peaceful perfection. A home which shone for the whole world , looked upon favorably by angles and saints alike.
Eighteen years passed after visiting Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus spent nearly all of His life in the city of Nazareth, where the Son of God, Our Saviour, lived thirty years of His earthly life. Nazareth, His place of birth and place of residence, for the exception of three to four years, the city whose name, then not so famous, was recorded in scorn and derision on His Cross.
A city that He was not ashamed to call His own, when referenced to in His persecutor Saul’s vision (Luke 2:51; Acts 22:8). Nazareth’s peaceful valley’s and hillsides saw Him slowly grow and mature from adolescence to manhood, like any son, brother, citizen, neighbor, or friend. His Godly might did not appear suddenly and miraculously. Like the growth of a seed in the fields by His Nazareen home, it went unnoticed. Slowly, one could notice a change, for His eyes began shinning with a bright heavenly light and His soul unnaturally covered itself with untimely solitude. From the onset, His needs were above everything earthly, appearing heaven bound, where not one unclean word or thought were proper in His presence. Once a youth, more pronounced became His solitude, only to magnify in the years to follow. Because of His sinless nature, how then could He be close to sin and weakness? It was natural of Christ to draw closer to the elderly rather than the young. Respectful of Joseph, He showed a son’s full devotion to him and to His Mother. Habitual in His later years and even in the days of His youth, He often withdrew to the furthest point in solitude, to the surrounding valley’s and hillsides of Nazareth, and eventually even the Virgin Mary stopped alarming herself of His whereabouts.
Passover, being the most important religious holiday of the year, represented only a fraction of all holidays consecutively followed in the Jewish calendar. Four times during the year, in July, October, January, and Marc h these holidays were celebrated by the whole Jewish community living in Nazareth. Fifty days after Passover, crowds of people congregated in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the feast of firstfruits. Such a gathering of multitudes is referred to in the II Chapter of Acts. The third holiday of importance, undoubtedly foresaw, Jesus and Joseph’s families participation in its celebration. Pilgrims living in Nazareth and its surroundings intending to go to Jerusalem, gathered first in the city as a meeting place to discuss the upcoming journey. They had to arrive before the 6th day of “shibanah”. On this day and the 7th day the feast was celebrated. For this reason, pilgrims left their homes a few days earlier. For the most part, the first harvest was already gathered, enabling them to leave their homes. Alongside the crowds of people dragged long lines of mules and camels laden with provisions and donations for the temple or the elderly and weak. While passing cities and villages they were joined by other pilgrims. Everyone rose early with shouts “Arise and let us go to Zion, to Our Everlasting God”! Thereafter, began the playing of flutes and the journey commenced with the singing of Psalm 121, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord”. When Jerusalem came into view, many became overwhelmed, falling to their knees and prayed with uplifted hands. Immediately began the glorified singing of Psalm 48:2, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the Great King”. The ending of the Psalm, exalted in song: “For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto the death (Psalm 48:14) “. Every group of pilgrims displayed the banners of their cities or villages. Upon reaching the walls of Jerusalem, priests in their white robes greeted the pilgrims, accompanied by a multitude of city dwellers, in holiday dress. Reentering through the gates, the priests sang loudly, accompanied by the playing of the flutes: “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!”. (Psalm 121:1-2). On the street and at their doorstep busy faces of merchants, in honor of the procession, rose and greeted them with words, “people from Nazareth (or elsewhere) welcome!” With the approaching pilgrims, huge crowds filled the air with joyous shouting. On the Temples elevations, rich and poor alike were participants in these processions, placing their baskets on their shoulders and climing into the male courtyard, where they were greeted by the Levites, who joined the procession singing along to the music of their instrument, beginning with the following words: “Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary: praise Him in the firmament of His power” (Psalm 150). “By this I know that thou favorest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.” (Psalm 40:11). Doves tied to baskets, where now handed over to the priests for burned offerings. The first fruits and gifts were removed from the baskets with spoken words written beforehand by Moses: “I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us.” “And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which thou O Lord, hast given me” (Deut. 26:3). Then the pilgrims left the temple escorted by a large crowd. Some of them went to rest with their relatives and friends, others with some of the many homeowners who invited them. No doubt Christ was a participant in all of these events. In the early days of His life, He often saw how these overcrowded cities were encircled by pilgrims situated on rooftops in tents; how windows and doors were covered in branches and flowers.
The next holiday in August attracted many to Jerusalem. In the middle of this month, all Jews were obligated to bring firewood to the temple, this being the reason for big celebrations in the capital. Therefore, in the religious calendar of October 1st, was celebrated the New Year or the Feast of the Trumpets, Rosh Hashanah. No work was allowed that day. This was the day according to the Jews, when God received an account of everyone’s actions of the previous year. This was a day of atonement, in which your fate for the coming year was sealed in heaven’s book. It was more a day of fasting, than merrymaking. Special ascending prayers filled the Synagogue and no one could eat before noon or sunset. The following eight days, the Jewish Great Lent, in which were prepared meals for the Day of Atonement. This last day considered the most triumphant and holy, was merely called DAY. It was the Sabbath of Sabbaths, a day of complete peace according to the book of Leviticus 16:1-34 and Numbers 29:7-11. By the testimony of historian Josephus Flavios, all fasted in the course of 24 hours. All communal or domestic obligations were stopped, no one even washed. This whole day was spent in the Synagogue where everyone stood dressed in white garments and covered heads and where this attire thereafter, was used for their burial. Each one, according to the law, confessed their sins before God. This day was significantly jubilant in the Jewish year. Christ could hear early on, how in seven days at the dawning of the great day, the high priest repeated all ceremonies and purified himself by sprinkling the water of separation. Christ could have heard also, how the high priest spent the night before the great day: before Him or He Himself read loudly to keep from falling asleep, because he could not sleep before the sunset of the following day. How shallow the teaching of the Rabbis must have seemed , when He found out that they had to change their clothes six times this day, wash their hands and feet eight times and their whole body five times between dawn and sunset. Our Saviour, often saw, how the high priest in head dress with barren feet, entered once a year the Holy of Holies clad in a curtain of frightening darkness, where only he was allowed to enter. According to historian Josephus Flavios, the high priest only spent a split of a second in this small, dark, and gloomy room. The rituals performed where too numerous and complex, even this historian of Judaism had no intentions of naming them all. Worship performed by hundreds of priests, completed after confessing thrice the peoples’ sins. The numerous gathering of pilgrims, at every mention of Gods frightful name, three times fell to the ground sobbing: “Blessed be This Glorious Name, unto the ages of ages”. The high priest answered after each wail: “you are cleansed!” All of this Our Saviour had to observe.
Five days after the Day of Atonement, began the last celebrated holiday of the year, the Feast of Booths or Tabernacle, which commemorated the forty days of wondering of the Jews in the dessert. As the other Jews, Jesus participated, dwelling in booths made of leafy tree branches built in every courtyard, on every roof top, in streets and in open spaces of Jerusalem. Christ also saw, crowds of people bringing the best of their harvest to the temple. Joyously, each one carried palms or lemon branches. A time for happiness in every home, a city drenched in lights and total rejoicing.
The 25th of December, Kislev, commemorating the rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus, Hanukkah, the temple being defiled by the Syrians (1 Macc 4:52-59). The public gathered in the Synagogue , carrying palms and other branches in hand, participated in festive services. In every family the young listened to agitating stories of Maccabean triumph and were inspired to noble confrontations. To this were added heroic achievements of Judiphus and the Syrian Olophern. In Nazareth, no child remained ignorant of these events.
Purim, celebrated in the interval between the Feast of Booths and Passover on the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Adar (March), was a remembrance celebrating the freeing of the Jewish people in Persia, with the helpful assistance of Ester, from the evil plot of Haman. The Book of Ester was read in the Synogogue with the intent to save a living memory of the significant event. Children raised the loudest and most threatening shouts at every mention of the name of Haman. The gathered stamped their feet shouted forth with all their might, damned curses: His name be effaced, perish the name of the impure. Every year in the Synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus had to see all this and hear, how the reader wanted in one breath to read verses in which Haman and his sons were mentioned, to emphasize the fact, that they were hanged simultaneously.
Such was the Jewish religious year with its 59 celebrated holidays, visually observed by Jesus. Every event with its distinctive differences and its constantly repetitive influences on the peoples voice, thought, and life materialized in numerous forms. Religion and politics always fused in a theocratic society. In this fashion, these two principles exhibited greater influences on mankind, a constant worry for every Jew. In such an atmosphere, Christ spent His life on earth.
But, neither the services performed in the Synogogue, nor the holidays celebrated in Jerusalem and attended lovingly by the Galileans, did not extend , so to speak, the greatest influence on the developement of wisdom in Jesus. As in the teachings of the Rabbi, these festive holidays served in various ways as a means for grasping and understanding the Holy Book, in which His Heavenly Father revealed Himself to Israel. On every page of the Gospel, it is evident, that Christ as Timothy (II Timothy 3:15), from childhood knew the Holy Scriptures. With confidence we can say, that in Joseph’s house the Scriptures were read daily, perhaps stricter than elsewhere. In agreement with the teachings of the Rabbis, accordingly “three sitting together and not discussing the Law”, were likened to people eating pagan sacrifices. The teachings of Christ stand out for their clarity, joyousness, and simplicity and exemplify purity and holiness, as a result of His clean and saintly upbringing. Remembrances in images of His home life and a childhood filled with love, the Gospel speaks of them. Hints of innocent child like play, their nearness to the Kingdom of God; images of a father defenseless against his sons pleas; deeply touching, the show of His homelessness; Christ comparing Himself with the birds of the air and foxes who have their holes (Matt 8:20; 11:16; 19:13-15; Luke15:12), showing us that in the course of His entire life , He always returned in thought to His pure and happy Nazareen life.
We undoubtedly know, the first teachers of Christ were the Virgin Mary and Joseph. While sitting at their feet, He learned to read the Scriptures. According to Josephus Flavious, pious Jewish parents seriously concerned themselves with the acquisition of ancient hand written manuscripts, on which was inscribed the law in ancient Jewish lettering and guarded them as a saintly family inheritance. More affluent families possessed complete sets of the Testament in scrolls or Egyptian papyrus, the less fortunate possessing lists of Laws or Psalm Books. Christ’s deep understanding of Scripture is found everywhere in the Gospel, so profound was His knowledge that even His enemies had to concede and recognize Him as a Teacher. He often disputed the opinions of Pharisees and said to them “Have ye not read?” (Matt 12:3). The Old Testament in its entirety was as familiar to Jesus as it was to the Virgin Mary, exalted in song “my soul doth magnify the Lord”. And in His childhood Christ absorbed a heavenly wisdom, quenched by purest waters of ancient writings. He referred to the Bible when rejecting things of little importance and of no value, when it related to his religious teachings of the day.
Long years spent in Nazareth’s solitude and humbleness , reflected a time not wasted frivolously or engulfed in idleness or in the dependency on others. Residents knew that Jesus, like Joseph, labored to earn His daily bread . To the Jews, knowledge and handiwork were closely knit together, and were not regarded as matters of incompatibility. Love the work of thy hands, said Shemaya, Hillel’s teacher and in Gamaliel’s family there was a saying, a joining of studies of God’s Law with the studies of commerce could guard against sin, whereby studies alone were considered dangerous and damaging (Delitch) . Rabbis dedicating one third of the day to studies of God’s Law, one third to prayer, and the last third to work, commanded a special respect. Stories fondly told of famous teachers bringing their own handmade chairs to class and how the Rabbia Finees worked as a mason while being elected High Priest. According to the words of F. B. Farrera, Rabbis who commanded such respect in Christ’s time, some were flour grinders, others carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, bakers, doctors, builders, money exchangers, scribes, carriers, ironsmiths, and servers in the Synagogue. In this nation, whose teachers could not receive payment for their instruction, honest work enabled such teachers a means of livelihood without any false offenses. Years spent in Nazareth were equally divided between studies of written revelations and carefully observed phenomenon in the environment and in man’s surroundings. From the Bible we can fully observe that nothing escaped from Christ’s view. Lilies and grasses of the fields, mentioned in His Sermon on the Mount; hens gathering lovingly their chicks under the wing; birds of heaven scattered all over the world, while feeding themselves without a care; sheeps following their shepards and loosing their way and perishing in the desert; dogs so well known in the Eastern cities; foxes having their dens in wooded thickets; plants and flowers; all of these were noticed and taken into account when preparing for His Ministry. And human beings were also not exempted from His site; their childish play, pleasures of a riper age; a bridegroom and his bride; the wailers and death; fortresses and palaces of Kings; satin dresses of noblemen; rich owners of lands and vineyards; guards, merchants, voyagers, paupers, debtors, sowers and laborers in the vineyards or fisherman by the sea, fatiguing work, the imprisoned and anguished, were all seen and heard by Christ and remembered. His overview not superficial, of man’s pertinent traits; their happiness, suffering, actions and deeds, their traditions, pride and humbleness, their pretences and sincerities, failures and accomplishments. This constant permeability characteristic of a great innate trait possessed by Christ namely: amongst all imperfections and mistakes prevalent to man, He never lost sight of man’s innermost dignity, who often considered himself a lost sinner.
He did not reject publicans and sinners. Even in them He found good qualities. In Zaccheus He saw the son of Abraham, in Mary Magdaleen a weeping sinner asking for forgiveness, and in the dying thief, the return of a prodigal son. On all of these occasions, hearts secrets where not only discovered through permeability, a property of man ‘s mind. The all knowing Christ, penetrated the very secrets of the soul and joined them together with the very breath of a flaming love (Matt. 7:9-11; 12:35; Luke 13:16; 19:9). Like a brother and a friend to all, coming forth to seek and to save that which was lost. He looked upon all men with an unending love, regardless of their origin.
Nazarean life in her tranquil obscurity was sparingly referred to by the evangelists, but in God’s concerns it had from the start to the finish, a definite purpose and a wise objective, serving as a preparation for the great events culminating in the last days of Our Lord’s Life, Christ’s incarnation of God’s Word, even though partly this word was sealed in silence. He was the light, as spoken by St. Gregory the Theologian, which had to “shine in darkness, even though for a short time this light was concealed from people’s view”. He had to excel above all surrounding people, in the highest spirit of His nature and was separated by it from all friendliness to evil. Because of His human nature, He had to mature the same way, gradually as His fellow man. Such a steady development in His everyday achievements, made His Life outwardly resemble the lives of His contemporaries. Otherwise, they could not be surprised when He revealed Himself. Spending these years in quiet solitude, Christ observed the world of man in the same manner He often observed the beautiful view of the surrounding cliffs of Nazareth.
Year after year passed by and even though He was busy with everyday work, His Hour had not yet come. Excelling in humble patience, tremendously good natured and always actively kind, of gentle love and disposition to everyone in His surroundings, loved and respected but, dressed in the Divine Light of His perfect humanity, fully aware of His Godly Origin, so, peacefully Christ spent thirty years of His Life.