“The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” (CCC 533)
Jesus spent the majority of His life in relative obscurity, in family life, growing, learning, working and manual labor. Jesus did not come to Earth and immediately set the world ablaze with His divine power and majesty. On the contrary, Jesus came in obscurity, humility and poverty; being born as a baby, completely dependent and helpless, to a poor family in a small village placed in an animal manger. God came as the least among us. How few recognized the extraordinary baby in the midst of that most ordinary scene? How often do we fail to see God in our ordinary circumstances each day? Following His birth, Jesus then spent His childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in continued obscurity. Or, in other words, the God-man, the divine Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, spent the vast majority of His earthly life in a very ordinary, everyday existence; a seemingly average person. Christ lived as one of us in every way, but sin. As the Catechism teaches, “During the greater part of His life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor.” (CCC 531) This is truly an amazing thing to contemplate. Jesus, the divine being, spent most of His life, or approximately thirty years, living a private, ordinary life just like ours. But why? He worked in Joseph’s workshop as a carpenter. He lived an existence in humble obedience to Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His step-father. Little else is said of this time period in the Bible. Of course, when we think of the life of Jesus, we think most often about the last three years of His life, His public life, as recorded in the Gospels. These were the all-important years when Jesus gathered His disciples, preached the kingdom of God and the repentance of sins, worked miracles, healings, instituted the Sacraments, founded His Church, and of course, offered Himself to the Father with His Passion and Crucifixion. There seems to be a huge dichotomy between the ordinariness of His first thirty years and the extraordinariness of His last three years. One can imagine at the beginning of His public ministry the astonishment of His neighbors when they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” (Mk. 6:2) They only recognized the “ordinary” Jesus, and were incredulous at seeing and hearing the divine Jesus.
This begs the question then, why did Jesus live these two almost separate, distinct stages in His life? Why was there seemingly such a difference between the first 90% of His life versus the last 10% of His life? In part, I think the answer lies in the focus of those stages. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father. As Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn 6:40) Jesus was born into the world in order to save and bring to Heaven as many human souls as possible. This was clearly accomplished by Jesus in His Passion and Crucifixion. The reason for the Incarnation was the Redemption. (CCC 607) In the midst of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt. 26:39) Jesus accomplishes His Father’s will in the redemptive act of His Passion. This was the culmination of His public ministry, the culmination of the Incarnation. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. For the first thirty years, in His private, ordinary life, He was God. He was already accomplishing the will of the Father in perfect obedience. As the Catechism states, “From the first moment of His Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in His redemptive mission: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”” (CCC 606/Jn 4:34) Jesus’ whole life was lived accomplishing the will of the Father. From the first moment of His Incarnation into the womb of Mary, to His birth in Bethlehem, to His childhood and adolescence, to His young adulthood in Nazareth, Jesus accomplished the will of the Father. The two distinct periods of Jesus’ life, the private and the public, were not at odds with each other. They were one continuous redemptive mission along the spectrum of Jesus’ life. The mystery of redemption was at work throughout His life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) Thus, Jesus was fulfilling the will of the Father to redeem and save, even in His private life as an ordinary person.
Then, what was the mystery of redemption at work through the thirty or so years of Jesus’ private life? How did this mystery of redemption permeate Jesus’ ordinary existence? Part of Jesus’ mission was to restore mankind to its original dignity and vocation. Jesus could have descended from the clouds of Heaven and begun His life in His public ministry. Yet, that is not what He did. Instead, He followed the same path that we all follow of being born into this world, growing up, and laboring as an adult. Jesus took on all of our circumstances, and lived our daily, ordinary lives. And not only that, He lived in the most humble and extreme of circumstances so as to encompass the breadth and depth of human experiences. He came intentionally to live through all these various stages of life. The Catechism says, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said, and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 518) Jesus recapitulated within Himself all of our ordinary human actions, our ordinary human vocations, and in fact, our very ordinary human nature. The Catechism quotes St.Irenaeus in this area, “For this reason Christ experienced all the stages of life, thereby giving communion with God to all men.” (CCC518) Within Jesus, all aspects of human life, from birth until death, were sanctified. All of the material nature of man was subsumed in the vastness of His divinity. The infinite efficaciousness of His divine nature was infused into human nature. As such, human nature was raised up, restored, and divinized in the person of Jesus Christ. When the God-man lived our stages of life and our ordinary actions and vocations, He infused them with His eternal grace. Thus, the Catechism can state, “The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of His hidden life was already inaugurating His work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed.” (CCC 532)
Christ was indeed the “perfect man” (CCC 520), the new Adam, who lived a perfect life, but He did not live it for Himself. Rather, Christ lived it for us and for our salvation. Moreover, “All Christ’s riches ‘are for every individual and are everybody’s property.’” (CCC 519) Taking on human nature, all of humanity was recapitulated within the God-man Redeemer (CCC 518) St.Paul uses the perfect phrase to illustrate this idea; that is, in order “to sum up all things in Christ.” (Eph.1:10) This captures it succinctly. Jesus is all that we are and all that we live. The divine man Jesus, lived the ordinary life of each of us, suffering the mundane work and trials of each day, so as to redeem our lives, consecrate them, and divinize them by His own divine life. Jesus cares about us in our poverty. He lived it. He offers eternal meaning to our poor lives. Christ, by living an ordinary life like ours, consecrated our ordinary vocations. The effects of His Spirit are not limited by time or space. We can be united with Jesus in our humanity, in our ordinariness. Our ordinariness should not worry us. We don’t have to do extraordinary things or live extraordinary lives. We can be content in our simplicity. Christ summed up all that we are within Himself. We can live within Him, and He will live within us. In a certain way Christ Himself is united with each man. Christ saves us individually. Being united as one with Jesus – as a part of the Mystical Body of Christ – we continue within ourselves the mysteries of His life, making Him present in the world. (CCC 521) In Nazareth, Jesus lived a quiet, humble and obedient life. He lived in communion with His family. He worked in the carpenter’s workshop. Jesus is our perfect example. We should imitate Him by consecrating to God our family life, our work life, and our everyday activities. We do this through the intentions of our thoughts and prayers. Part of the reason Jesus lived His private life of 30 years was so we could be united to Him in everything we do. Our ordinary lives can have extraordinary meaning. After His Resurrection, Jesus repeatedly shows up to His disciples, sometimes unawares; once walking with them on the road to Emmaus; another time fixing breakfast for them at the Sea of Galilee. What’s to stop Jesus now from being with us as we drive to work? Or, as we sit down for dinner with our family? Or, at anytime in our daily routine? This should be our intention every day: union with Jesus. Whether in family life or at work or in leisure, we should unite ourselves with Him. Then the ordinary will take on the extraordinary. This is our true treasure.