Part 4 of series: Missional and Formational?
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In my last post I mentioned that Jesus, as a carpenter, would have had to operate his business with integrity if he were to succeed in a small village such as Nazareth.
Speaking of Nazareth, Jesus spent most of his early life in this village, experiencing the pluses and minuses of small town life. We know almost nothing about his years in Nazareth. But we do know that when Jesus began his ministry, the home town folks were not expecting it. In fact, they were relatively unsupportive of Jesus. At one point, some of his former neighbors tried to throw him off a cliff, probably because they feared that his kingdom message would bring the wrath of Rome down upon their heads (Luke 4:16-30). Yet even when they weren’t trying to kill Jesus, the folks from Nazareth were, by and large, unwilling to believe that he was anything more than a messianic pretender. When he spoke in their synagogue, they took offense at him, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3). (Photo: Nazareth today, a larger town than in the time of Jesus.)
Nevertheless, Jesus’ experience growing up in the synagogue of Nazareth was surely foundational for him. There he heard the Law being read and expounded. There he learned how to read and speak Hebrew (a cousin to his first language, Aramaic). In the synagogue, Jesus would have heard the Psalms read and prayed regularly. And since his family wasn’t wealthy, and therefore didn’t own biblical scrolls, it was in the synagogue that Jesus heard the sacred texts that profoundly shaped his sense of mission, as well as his relationship with his Heavenly Father.
About this relationship we know very little. It would seem likely that the intimacy Jesus experienced with his Father during his ministry didn’t begin at his baptism, but was a part of his life as a relatively ordinary Jewish man.
Perhaps the most extraordinary part of Jesus’ pre-ministry life, in addition to his conception, was his remaining unmarried. Yes, yes, I know that it has been popular in recent years to think of Jesus as married, thanks largely to Dan Brown and The DaVinci Code. If you’re looking for a sober conversation about his marriage or lack thereof, I’d refer you to a series I’ve written called, aptly enough, Was Jesus Married? A Careful Look at the Real Evidence. The historical evidence for the marriage of Jesus is almost entirely fanciful. But the strongest argument in favor of his marriage does deserve to be taken seriously. It is this: Virtually every Jewish man in the time of Jesus would have been married. Thus, by remaining single, Jesus distinguished himself from his peers. No doubt his singleness, in addition to his eyebrow-raising conception, led some to be suspicious of him, or even to heap scorn upon him.
Though in crucial ways Jesus was unique, his first thirty years or so were, in many ways, ordinary. When he hit his thumb with a hammer, he felt real pain, and no doubt cried out (though avoiding words that some of us might use). Jesus knew the joys of family life, but also the sorrows. Given the absence of Joseph from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ adult life, it’s highly likely that Joseph died before Jesus commenced his ministry. Thus he knew what it was like to lose a father, and to comfort a mother who had lost her husband. Perhaps this experience contributed to his compassion for the suffering, or shaped the compassion that was his by virtue of his divine nature.
Well, I’ve offered plenty of speculations here, so it’s time to stop. In my next post in this series I want to look at some events in the life of Jesus as they’re found in the Gospels and reflect upon how Jesus was being formed through them.