We can only imagine what went through the minds of Joseph and Mary as they approached the temple to dedicate their son to God. For any Jewish family this was a momentous occasion, but of course their experience up to that point had been a bit unsettling. Then the ominous words of Simeon had to inject even more anxiety. Their child was to be the cause for the rise and fall of many in Israel. What did this old man see in their son that they did not yet see? What was happening to them?
As the gospels suggest, the next few years must have been quiet ones. That may explain the skepticism that greeted Jesus when he began his ministry. People thought they knew him, and there had seemed nothing unusual about him. So came the ultimate put-down: wasn’t he just a carpenter, the son of Mary? And if nothing good ever came from Nazareth, could someone remarkable come from Nazareth? “We think not,” was the derisive conclusion of many.
Part of this response to Jesus was due to the circumstances of his upbringing. If people expected all the good and important things to come from Jerusalem, then nothing of real value could come from out-of-the-way places like Nazareth. Beyond that, there was nothing to hint that Jesus had the training or the capacity to be a mover or a shaker. He was a nobody, the son of nobodies, from a no-place town. This was type-casting at its normal, and small wonder that people tried to box Jesus in with such thoughts — especially in his home town.
Typecasting is a convenient way to sort people out, and its grip can be iron-clad and last a lifetime. What makes it so destructive is that we bless some people with unreasonably high expectations and overlook their flaws, even as we dismiss the talents of others. Common to each extreme is the tendency to take a quick inventory of others that falls short of their true essence. So it is that we meet people early in life and forever after our assumptions about them go unchallenged. We never give them a chance to break out of the pigeon-hole to which we’ve assigned them. Sadly, not a few go on to live up to the expectations people ascribe to them.
So it could have been with Jesus. He could have grown up to be a simple and unassuming carpenter. Yet, somewhere along the line, he broke free from the stereotype which others had imposed on him. He grew in age and wisdom, even as few people watched. Eventually he had to be about his Father’s business, and the people who thought they knew him were more than a little surprised. They had not counted on this, and when Jesus did not step back into his assigned role, they were disturbed.
If people did this to Jesus, it’s good for us to realize that we do this all the time to each other. We meet so many people, and we often rely on the memory of first impressions to keep track of everybody. But then we are oblivious to the growth that quietly takes place in them, and we miss the talents that are latent within them. Happily, some have the fortitude to break out of the mould that others impose on them; but too many accept it and then live up to expectations.
To no one’s surprise, we often do this to ourselves as well. Often enough it’s just easier to pursue the path of least resistance and make do with our lives. We fail to step forward and rise to the occasion. We fail to accept some of the talents that we’ve been given, and a lot of our potential goes unrealized. We lose out on life, and others never benefit from what we might bring in service.
At least two things strike me as the antidote to these tendencies. The first involves the need to be open to others. Saint Benedict in his Rule asks the abbot to seek advice from even the youngest in the monastery. He notes dryly that wisdom can reside in the most unexpected of places — even in the young. Translated to another level, Benedict suggests we should always be keen to see the potential in others and encourage them to grow into it. Any other course of action impoverishes us all.
The second suggestion has to do with ourselves. Growth in wisdom is not restricted to our early years. We can grow and develop at any age, and we should embrace the challenges that life sends our way, rather than retreat from them. If Jesus could grow in age and wisdom, then so can we.
Through prayer Jesus learned the will of his Father for him, and he accepted and acted upon it. That’s why we too pray. We pray especially because we all have plenty to do, at every age, and the Lord gives us the energy and the drive to grow. All we need do is ask.
+During my recent trip to Barcelona I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite museums in all the world. I spent almost an entire day in the Museum of Catalan Art, which has a vast collection ranging from Romanesque to modern. On my first visit years ago the collection of Romanesque frescos especially intrigued me, and it is the largest such collection anywhere. The genesis of the collection was due to foreign acquisition of such frescoes at the turn of the last century, and as an example of such a purchase you can visit the Fontedueña Apse at the Cloisters Museum in New York. Alarmed that they were losing their patrimony, officials of the museum visited the many derelict churches in the mountains outside of Barcelona, carefully removed the frescos, and reassembled them in the Museum. Today they awe visitors with their scale, majesty and striking abstract qualities. They heavily influenced Picasso when he first viewed them, and today there is a permanent exhibit of Picasso alongside the exhibit of frescos.
The first three photos in today’s post originally were in the parish church of Santa María in Taüll, and the fourth photo shows an 11th-century fresco from the Monastery of Sant Pere del Burgal. Below that is a ca. 1200 fresco from the church of Santa María d’Aneu. In addition to the frescos there is also an extensive number of statues and altar frontals, such as the last photo in today’s post. It comes from a parish church in the diocese of Urgell and it dates from the 12th century. The variety of holdings is amazing, and next week I plan to insert pictures of an altar frontal that will knock your socks off.