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Jesus as a teen: He grew in wisdom, strength

Published: February 5, 2021   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Dec. 27.

You and I carry in our minds two primary pictures of Jesus. At Christmas we think of him as a little baby, but the rest of the year we think of him as a fully grown man and in the process forget that for a lot of years Jesus was a growing boy. 

And so today I would like to focus on Jesus as a teenager. Once when I was in Israel, I visited in Nazareth the Basilica of the Adolescent Jesus. They have a statue of him looking kind of awkward, with feet too big for the rest of his body, no longer a boy but not yet fully a man. Jesus was once a teenager and he understands teenagers. In today’s Gospel, Luke gives us a very brief description of Jesus’ youth: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Notice that when he was a boy, he was a real boy. He was not a man in a boy’s body. He came to manhood gradually like any other kid. Luke mentions that he grew in size, strength and wisdom. That he grew in size was obvious, so let’s look at his growth in strength and wisdom.

When Luke says he grew in strength, that included growth in spiritual strength. Jesus had all of the same feelings, urges and desires that we all experience, but he did not allow these to control his life. He didn’t deny or destroy his feelings, but unlike us, he brought them under the control of a higher purpose. That is spiritual strength. 

He also loved people, including those who opposed him and didn’t understand him.

Let me give you an example, for instance anger. We have all known hot-headed persons whose anger would flare up at the least little thing. This happens a lot in adolescence and they end up hurting themselves more than anyone else. Contrast that with Jesus: “When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he was made to suffer, he did not counter with threats” not because he had no temper -- remember the day he threw the merchants out of the temple?— but rather because during his teenage years he had learned to control his anger and use it in the service of the higher purpose for which he lived. That is spiritual strength. 

The person controlled by his passions is not strong; he is weak. But when he has gained control of his passions and put them to work for the things in which he believes, that man has become strong. And Jesus grew in this kind of spiritual strength during his teenage years.

He also grew in wisdom. Wisdom requires that we take life seriously — that we realize that what we do matters — and that we become capable of self-sacrificing love. And Jesus grew in both of these ways. He was serious about life and sought to understand it and how best to live it. He understood and enjoyed pleasurable things, a good meal with friends, and he felt the pain of life’s injustices and wanted to do something about it. He also loved people, including those who opposed him and didn’t understand him, and especially those on the fringe of society who nobody loved. Probably he learned this from observing how his parents treated others; this is the sort of thing that develops in us from an early age. In any event, as he grew up, Jesus became a lover of people and a serious student of life, and out of that combination came the magnificent way he lived and the profound truth he taught. He grew in wisdom.

Today is the last Sunday of the year and so is a time for taking stock. Looking back over this most difficult year in memory, I hope the Lord has used this time to help all of us grow in spiritual strength and wisdom too. After all, in a lot of ways we are all children: Every one of us still has room to grow.

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