Child’s Play

We aren’t told much about the life of Jesus from the time when the Magi from the east presented the child with their prophetic gifts to the beginning of his ministry. We know that he and his family used to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover, and that when he was twelve, in the exuberance of his boyish nature, he stayed behind to be about his heavenly Father’s business, disputing and conversing with the scholars in the Temple. We know, besides, that he learned his foster-father’s trade and worked as a carpenter. And that is about all.

We wish there were more, but we should take as an important feature of the Gospel that there is no more:none of the typical embellishments of the young life of the hero, no desire among the Evangelists to see the mature Christ developing in the boy. Indeed, it is a mystery to us, this very question of how Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, had to learn things in ordinary human fashion. Perhaps it shall be revealed to us in glory. But it does appear that any probing into the development of Jesus’ personality would be impertinent.

The mature Jesus we encounter in the Gospels is like us in obvious ways: he needs food and drink and rest; he is moved with joy and sorrow, with delight in the good deeds of men and disappointment in their failures; he knows how to speak to put people at ease or to accuse them home; he prays, he sings, he holds his peace. He is like us, but not one of us is like him. You may meet a man who is like Socrates: gregarious, not too responsible when it comes to family life, intelligent, sometimes the life of the party, and often an insufferable pest. You will not meet anyone like Jesus, though that very likeness is the aim of the Christian life, and in that likeness we will be fully and distinctly and unrepeatably ourselves.


Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (, on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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