Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
Becoming Jesus, in the beginning
By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
February 2, 2014

Becoming Jesus can take two courses. One, the Son of Mary who became Jesus and, two, you and I who can become Jesus' disciples. We had nothing to do, at first, with becoming Jesus, his birth, death and resurrection. These were decisions Jesus and His Father had made long before we came into being. And, of course, without Christmas, Good Friday and Easter there would be no course for us to take to salvation. Christmas, Good Friday and Easter define our faith, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" recounted in the Book of Hebrews – such is our hope. (11: 1).

Our modern secular world, however, can not or does not want to accept the proposition that the "things hoped for," anything hoped for, is always a matter of natural faith and hope. We can not know the future but we can trust we have a future although we can not know its content. We naturally strive for and hope to hold onto the good things of life forever, but are never satisfied with the 'for-now-only.' Why so many in their state of dissatisfaction shun even the notion of death, of the end of it all. And then what follows? After birth and life, death becomes the last unknown fact of our lives. Yet there is an innate longing for life without end in all of us. Our days are consumed with the mystery of our tomorrows. Jesus became man on our terms "emptied himself" of his divine prerogatives to live through the mystery of our tomorrows as a man so we may learn the mysteries of birth, life and death which God envisioned for us and revealed in the course of Jesus' birth, life and death. (Philippians 2: 7).

The 'middle years' for us between birth and death became the principle focus of Jesus' life, daily becoming Jesus among us. His birth, death and resurrection would have been more than enough for our salvation, but where would we be in our instructions for life promised by Jesus, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"? (John 14: 6).

As we course through the early mostly unknown years of Jesus' childhood before his public ministry we may occasionally discover some insights from Jesus' experiences as a child and an adolescent. In Luke's account of Jesus infancy we have the story of Mary and Joseph's purification and Jesus circumcision that "every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, according to the dictate in the law of the Lord" as cited in Mosaic Law. Simeon, we are told, who circumcised Jesus and received his mother for purification, on seeing Jesus suddenly spoke out, "Master . . . my eyes have seen your salvation . . . a light . . . to the Gentiles and . . . the glory for your people Israel." Mary and Joseph, we are told, "were amazed at what was said about [Jesus] particularly what Simeon told Mary Jesus' mother: 'this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel . . . and you yourself a sword will pierce through your own soul also – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed'.." The scene in the temple closes with Jesus, Mary and Joseph returning "to Nazareth" and abruptly concludes, "the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Luke 2: 22-40).

What the prophet Simeon told Mary and Joseph set the course of Jesus' home schooling until manhood.

They turned to the only study necessary, Sacred Scripture, the readings they heard as a family in the synagogue and their discussion of Scripture at home. Jesus, their son, would not forget the readings of Scripture, nor did Mary forget that Jesus was "destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, the sign of contradiction" he would become and that you Mary, "a sword will pierce through your own soul also – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (ibid.). She prepared her son and herself for the "fall and rise of many" and the wounds she and Jesus would incur during their lives. Mary remembered what she had promised the angel Gabriel when she became pregnant with Jesus, "let it be done to me as you have said" (Luke 1: 38) which she now knew would include the "sign of contradiction" Jesus would become and the pain and suffering she and Jesus would endure. Years later Jesus would teach his disciples his mother's prayer to God in heaven . . . "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." From that time forward Mary grew in wisdom as did her son. Jesus' home schooling became apparent when at the age of twelve Mary and Joseph had lost and then found Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem "sitting among the teachers listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard were amazed at his understanding and answers." When reminded by his mother, "your father and I have been looking for you anxiously," Jesus replied, "Why have you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house? Mary and Joseph did not understand [then] . . . and his mother kept all these things in her heart." She would later understand after Jesus began his public ministry. And Jesus," we are told, "increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:41-53). Jesus had come of age and his prayers to his Father in heaven became the predominant source of his wisdom for his remaining years at home and abroad winning "favor" with God and man up to and after God the Father at Jesus' baptism announced to the world, Jesus their Messiah, 'listen to him." (cf. John 1: 29-34).

From the beginning death stalked Jesus, first as a newborn who was threatened by King Herod and the impending danger revealed at his presentation in the temple when his mother is warned that a "sword would pierce her heart also." At the start of Jesus' public ministry we learn that the death of John the Baptist moved Jesus to leave his home in Nazareth to live in Capernaum at the cross roads of a world beyond the Jordan river where he was baptized. Jesus lived constantly with the knowledge he would die at the hands of his persecutors. Ironically, the source of life Himself knew he was born and doomed to die. Irony of ironies Jesus' death ultimately restored life for all human beings who would become Jesus themselves by finding their personal reconciliation with death through Jesus.

Many lapsed Christians knowingly or not place their hope in this world when once they had hope in life everlasting. Becoming Jesus may still ultimately bring the peace of everlasting life to his disciples as Jesus promised.
    Peace I leave with you; [Jesus said] my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. (John 14: 27-29).
Jesus shared these last sentiments of gratitude with his disciples on the evening before his arrest and death. He became their savior as he and his Father had intended and he would find in the finality of his earthly life the peace he sought for us which he would give freely to all others who become Jesus in their own lives.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo


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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at (Fr. Bartolomeo passed away on September 18, 2018. His obituary can be found here.)


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