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The life of Jesus in Nazareth

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

We are approaching the end of the liturgical season of Christmas. The Christmas liturgy covers the life of the Lord from his birth to the baptism in the Jordan, a connecting episode with his public life, which takes place today, Jan. 8.

The expression “hidden life” has an official character, and appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 531 f.). However, some like to refer to the first years of the Savior’s earthly life as his life in Nazareth, or the childhood and youth of Jesus. The expression “hidden life” is open to the misunderstanding that Jesus lived hiding something; that is, that he lived pretending, that he did not fully immerse himself in his humanity, but that he was aware of his superiority. There are apocryphal or non-canonical Gospels which present the Child Jesus performing miracles to amuse his playmates. Nothing is further from the mystery of the Incarnation.

It could be said that the years between the birth and the public life of Jesus—some 30 years—emphasize “the divine value of humanity,” to borrow the title of Father Jesús Urteaga’s bestseller.

The life of Jesus in Nazareth would be misunderstood if it were conceived as a simple preparation for the next period of his life, the truly important one. Not so. The years in Nazareth also play a major role. His village life belongs to his salvific mission. He not only saves when he preaches, works wonders, dies and resurrects, but when he performs the ordinary tasks of a child from a rural family who lives off manual labor.

Sacred Scripture emphasizes that the Nazarene experienced growth, something very typical of human nature. He assumed all stages of maturation from the most tender childhood to adulthood. Although he was about 33 years old when he died, we could say that he even peeked into old age because he looked older. His radical commitment to the mission aged him, hence the observation of an adversary: ​​“You are not 50 yet, and you have seen Abraham!” (Jn 8, 57).

Jesus grew harmoniously and integrally. St. Luke says it twice: “The child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom; and God's favor was with him” (2, 40). He later repeated the same idea with similar words: “And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and with people” (2, 52).        

On Jan. 5, 1964, Blessed Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth, where he delivered an address highlighting some aspects of the life of Jesus in that Galilean town. In that sacred home, there were prolonged moments of silence to nourish the spiritual life. The Pope said, “O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection and interior life...”

Family life was nurtured: “May Nazareth teach us the meaning of family life, its harmony of love, its simplicity and austere beauty, its sacred and inviolable character; may it teach us how sweet and irreplaceable is its training, how fundamental and incomparable its role on the social plane.” Certain Pauline recommendations help to imagine the family life of Jesus: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be sharp with them. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, do not irritate your children or they will lose heart” (Col 3, 18-21). The apostle makes it clear that everyone has duties, not just rights, in the family.

The Holy Family did not live off rents, but from labor in the workshop: “We want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming law of human labor,” adds Paul VI. St. Paul will also illuminate this law with forceful words: “We urged you when we were with you not to let anyone eat who refused to work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living lives without any discipline, doing no work themselves but interfering with other people. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we urge and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat” (2 Thes 3: 10-12).

In Nazareth, Jesus lived the spirituality of ordinary life, which would then lead many Christians to the heights of holiness. Let us go back to St. Paul to appreciate the daily life: “Whatever you eat, then, or drink, and whatever else you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10, 31). And also, “Whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through him” (Col 3,17). A Theresian anecdote comes to mind: the saint from Avila told her sisters that God is also found among the pots of the kitchen, not only in the chapel.

Divine revelation enhances the virtue of obedience in Jesus, which he practiced since childhood. “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority” (Lk 2, 51). During his public life, he made it clear that he lived in obedience to the will of the Father: “I have come from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6, 38). The Pauline hymn to the Philippians says, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross” (Phil 2, 8). For the apostle, the salvation of the world comes more from the obedience of Jesus than from the intensity of his sufferings: “Just as by one man's disobedience (Adam’s) many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience (Jesus’) are many to be made upright” (Rom 5, 19).

Although the Child Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary, he did something on his own at the age of 12, staying in the Temple for three days (cf Lk 2, 41-50). At that age, the awareness of not being on Earth only, but “close to the Father's heart” (Jn 1:18) began to emerge, the awareness of having only one Father — the heavenly one — and one supreme duty: fidelity to the mission received. We could say that it was a consciousness without a theme or a category, which cannot be conceptualized. That consciousness would grow and become more explicit thanks to experiences such as his baptism in the Jordan, a theophanic-trinitarian episode (cf. Lk 3, 21-22) which the Liturgy celebrates today, Jan. 8. Someday he will be able to say, “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10, 30).

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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Comments from readers

james - 01/08/2018 03:24 PM
Greetings Fr. Eduardo Barrios and all, It with my humble sincerest estimation that this piece is beautifully written and superbly focused. Thank you and blessings, In Unity,


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