The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: His Childhood and the Discussion with the Doctors at the Temple
The Childhood of Jesus
Chapter Eight: The Boy Jesus Grows in Wisdom - and in Obscurity
The Holy Family returns from Egypt and settles in Galilee, away from the clutches of Herod's son. They choose Joseph's home town of Nazareth, and Jesus enjoys what appears to be a remarkably normal childhood for such an extraordinary boy. Only one canon incident from Jesus' life is recorded from this time. It is intriguing to remember that virtually everything we remember from Jesus' life occurred in his last three years. However, artists are still inspired to envision Jesus as a boy. The miracle of Jesus' incarnation lies in that He was as much human as He was God, and as such, he had to do chores, go to school, and prepare for adulthood just like any other child.
The Finding of the Savior at the Temple
Luke 2: 40 - 52
40 And the Child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.
41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the Feast.
43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it.
44 But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances.
45 And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
46 And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions.
47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
48 And when they saw Him they were amazed, and His mother said unto Him, “Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.”
49 And He said unto them, “How is it that ye sought Me? Knew ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?”
50 And they understood not the saying which He spoke unto them.
51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them. But His mother kept all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Jesus Among the Doctors by Frans Francken the Younger
Thoughts on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Meditation: So What's It Like to be a Kid God Incarnate?
We don't know much about the child Jesus was before His ministry began. Luke is the only one of the four evangelists who even attempts a glimpse. As a mother, I have always found the story about Jesus' trip to the Temple a bit vexing, in an amusing way. He led a life without sin - and yet, He didn't join the caravan when His parents left Jerusalem! What a fright He must have given Mary! Her relief just pours off her face as she embraces Him in The Finding of the Savior at the Temple by William Holden Hunt. "Where have You been?! I've been worried sick!" is the clear implication shown here. Jesus, on His part, seems quite nonchalant about the whole thing. "Aw, Mom. Why didn't you know where I was? Surely you've come to understand My life mission by now? How can I grow up to be a great teacher if I don't practice?"
And yet - that's the point. He did have to practice. He did have to learn things, like any other boy. His teaching was profound, and He amazed the doctors at the temple, but if Jesus was fully human, then He must have had a learning curve (however shallow) like anybody else.
There are people who have attempted to give us additional information about the life of Jesus. The Infancy Gospel of St. Thomas is one such apocryphal account, but the picture this book paints of young Jesus is hair-raising, to say the least. At best, his Jesus is prone to using his miracles to show off; at worst, he's a murderous kid who smites others in a fit of pique and probably wouldn't have been allowed to see adulthood if the stories had any truth to them at all. Still, the fact that this (somewhat blasphemous) work exists at all speaks to the fascination writers and artists have had for this mysterious, hidden part of Jesus' life.
I do not believe that Jesus, who had to be sinless in order to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins, spent any part of His life playing dangerous pranks on His playmates. But when I see paintings such as St. Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de Tour, I am mesmerized by the lovely sight of young Jesus holding up a candle in the darkness to light His earthly father's work. It is important for us to remember that Jesus was human as well as divine, and He spent most of His earthly life, not preaching and performing miracles, but helping His parents at home and in the shop.
St. Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour
When You became incarnate in the World, You took on our human nature and became the lowliest and most vulnerable kind of person on earth - a child from a poor family.. As a teacher, You encouraged Your followers to have a child's meek, guileless faith. Make us ever mindful that as our Savior, the one who takes away our sin, You have shared every aspect of our earthly existence, and that You understand us more fully than we understand ourselves.
Previous chapter in this series:
- The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: The Massacre of the Innocents, and the Flight Into
King Herod, terrified that a new King of the Jews might take his power, orders all boys under the age of two to be murdered. Meanwhile, the Holy Family escapes to Egypt.
Next chapter in this series
- The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: The Ministry of John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist begins his ministry in the wilderness. He bears witness to Christ and establishes the one-time ritual of baptism for the forgiveness of sin.
Where it is located
The Finding of the Savior at the Temple
William Holman Hunt, 1860
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Christ in the Temple
Antonio da Correggio, 1513
National Gallery of Art
Jesus among the Doctors
Franz Francken the Younger, 1587
St. Joseph the Carpenter
Georges de la Tour, 1640s
Louvre Museum, Paris