Updated: Apr 16, 2021
“Astonishing! The Son of God ---who, more than anyone else, was free to choose what he would—chose not only a mother, and a people, but also a social position. And he wanted to be a wage earner.
That Jesus had voluntarily lost himself in an obscure Middle Eastern village; annihilated himself in the daily monotony of thirty years’ rough, miserable work; separated himself from the society that “counts”; and died in total anonymity.” Carlo Carretto
“There is no journey to God outside of the journey that Jesus made.” Henri Nouwen
When asked what place I was most looking forward to visiting on my trip to Israel 18 months ago, without hesitation I replied “Nazareth”.
Where did Jesus spend almost 90% of his earthly life, out of the public eye? Why was it necessary for God’s Son to submit to the human process of developing slowly in this less than desirable place?
How did he manage his feelings of disappointment and loneliness among a people and family members who made Him feel like He did not belong at times? Was he tempted to deny them, run from them, or blame others like we do?
Upon visiting Israel, I came to realize that the life of Jesus is primarily a model of how a human being can truly thrive in the Father’s world. The emotional and spiritual development of Jesus during his almost 30 years in Nazareth is foundationally needed and desired in every son and daughter.
Here are a few insights I discovered:
In Nazareth, Jesus was formed by the comfort and care of a tender Father, and by other humans, especially Mary, who treasured him and pondered his significance. Luke 2:19,51. He grew in felt awareness of the Father’s acceptance and validation as Mary’s joy in His presence filled his growing human brain and heart.
In Nazareth, Jesus battled to silence the voices of shame, voices that whispered “you are not enough, something is wrong with you” and discovered another Voice, hearing his beloved-ness, his true self, the Father’s delight.
In Nazareth, Jesus listened to his sibling’s squabble, having compassion on their human condition, longing to “let him gather the wayward parts of them---but they were too stubborn to let him.” Matt 23:37.
In Nazareth, when life got hard and relationships got messy, Jesus found spaces in the surrounding hills to be alone with the Father, growing more confident in God’s love for Him and others. Jesus grew to “sympathize with us in our frailty and understand our humanity, because he was tempted in every way just as we are, yet overcame sin and the urge to run from the love of God (my emphasis). Heb 4:14,15
In Nazareth, Jesus worked hard with his hands, choosing to know what it feels like to toil like the sons of Adam and Eve have since Genesis, understanding what life is like for us. He honored Sabbath rest, lived within limits, saw family life and responsibility as God’s work and seemed to be in no hurry to leave obscure Nazareth and express his “true ministry” in Cana.
In Nazareth Jesus learned how to love, placing His words and miraculous powers on hold as secondary to accepting people, being kind and patient with those around Him. Paul wrote so eloquently to the Corinthians only because Jesus lived these words out first in Nazareth---“Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance…nor selfishly seek its own honor.”
Carlo Carretto adds, “As a carpenter in Nazareth, Jesus embodied the Gospel message in its entirety before ever announcing it in words.” Henri Nouwen, the famous author and professor of Christian spirituality and psychology, discovered in part what Jesus revealed in Nazareth, when he chose to leave Harvard and move to L’Arche because he realized that success was endangering his soul. He went from” teaching the world’s best and brightest students ready to rule the world to serving in a community for the mentally handicapped who had few words and seemingly no influence.
Nouwen met Jesus anew on this “downward mobility” path where he found community with the mentally handicapped and the freedom to be his true self. He became a caregiver offering meals, baths, and walks in the garden. He preached simple messages that children could understand.” (Bill Gaultiere, Soul Shepherding)
“What good thing could ever come out of Nazareth, Nathaniel asked?” John 1:46 We can ask the same question of our own spiritual and emotional development. And find that a path of hiddenness is what the true self really needs to ground us for more fruitful endeavors.
In what areas of your life is God inviting you to embrace this path like Jesus did?