Jesus Was a Teenager
CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman, AVLI President
Routines. We all have them, and, for the most part, they are a healthy part of productive living. Having things scheduled ensures that certain important aspects of our lives receive the attention they deserve. Sometimes, however, routines are actually ruts. This becomes particularly problematic when one’s entire existence is on autopilot, sleepwalking through life somewhere between comfortable and numb. On Good Friday, I realized that an alarming portion of my faith life has been on autopilot.
To be sure, I have developed some helpful habits around prayer, church attendance, and other “measurables” that keep me on a good path. One of those habits is a practice I started a number of years ago where I choose a character from the Passion narrative and spend Holy Week imagining myself walking in their shoes each day starting with Palm Sunday. Sometimes I pick a main character like Peter, Mary Magdalene, or Pilate while other times I choose a lesser role like a Roman guard, or Simon of Cyrene. This year, I chose Judas.
All was going well (as routines normally do) until the very end of the reading of the Passion on Friday evening when Jesus said, “I thirst.” That’s when it struck me; over all of these years of imagining the Passion, I’ve never immersed myself in the person of Jesus. This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve never truly entertained the idea of Christ’s human-ness. Of course he was human, but it's easier to think of Jesus as something “other”. Even in the brutality of the Passion my mind tells me, “Yah, but he’s God.”
The mystery, though, is that Jesus is fully divine and fully human - 100% of both. I’ve sat through a hundred readings of the Passion. How did I fail to notice that Jesus thirsts?
Why does this matter? Because thirsting is primal; we cannot control it. Thirsting is the signal for us to address a life sustaining requirement. And though it can be quenched, thirst cannot be completely extinguished. We will thirst again.
If Jesus experienced something as primal as thirst, he surely experienced temptation, loss, love, jealousy, joy, and anger in ways very similar to me. Jesus felt emboldened, and Jesus felt inadequate. Jesus felt in command, and Jesus felt overwhelmed. Jesus felt connected, and Jesus felt alone.
Jesus lived for roughly 12,000 days. One could only assume that on some of those he wasn’t at his best (on a “Jesus” scale). There must have been days where little things annoyed him, or the constant demands of others were exhausting and made him curt. Did he ever not want to get out of bed?
Jesus was also a teenager at one point. What must that have been like? Did he feel the pressure to fit in? Was he ever embarrassed by Mary and Joseph? Did he ever have a crush? This is all part of being 100% human, and it’s the Jesus I had never previously considered.
I bring all of this up because there is another kind of thirsting that is particularly human - a thirst for meaning. This isn’t a new phenomena though it seems to be more acute in recent times, particularly among young people. I use the word “thirsting” intentionally here because I believe the search for meaning to be more than a yearning since yearnings often resolve or abate. The search for meaning is ever present up to a person’s last day. A variety of experiences and personal epiphanies provide glimpses of our purpose, but the thirst around meaning always returns.
Most often, these glimpses are lightning strikes of gratitude - a brief moment in time when things seem to align and affirm a larger purpose. Sometimes it's in the experience of nature, a musical score, or an inspiring conversation. Other times the gratitude comes in the form of consolation, when a difficult situation yields a personal understanding of why we are present at a particular moment. Each of these quenches, yet they are also fleeting. Woven together, however, they are sustaining.
It’s the weaving that tends to get us. In living our busy lives, we simply aren’t attentive to the regular practice of reflecting on these moments, cherishing them, and then knitting them together to form a larger narrative of gratitude. In previous writing I’ve referenced an Ignatian practice called the Examen which is especially well suited to assist with such reflection. Still, it isn’t easy. This is particularly true when searching for gratitude as a self-conscious teen growing up in a society that requires you to have a personal brand.
That’s where Catholic schools come in. Returning to the water metaphor, one of the things Catholic schools do best is continually lead young people to healthy forms of hydration. Sometimes, particularly when they are younger, we need to tell them, “Don’t drink that!” But at some point the message and tone shifts toward self discovery, and then, to agency. Here we no longer provide the water. Instead, we are gifting them the tools and habits to search for life-sustaining water on their own. Seeing this as an important part of their journey will help them endure the periods of spiritual drought a long life affords all of us.
So what was the teenage Jesus like? Personally, I hope he was a tiny bit mischievous during these formative years. A bit of innocent adventure would surely have made those around him grateful for their shared experiences. And Jesus’ grateful memories of these early years likely helped him endure later in life during some of the more difficult periods of his ministry.
It’s easier now for me to imagine the Last Supper and Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what awaited him, including the betrayal. Still, there seemed to be a melancholy gratitude for the life he had lived, and that sustained him until the end. That’s the human Jesus.
I’m not sure Jesus really needed faith, but that’s what it reminds me of. After all, at its core, that’s what faith is: surrendering to the fact that we don’t have all of the answers to the meaning of life, but trusting that a purposeful, dogged pursuit will yield the desired outcome…eventually.
vol 5 issue 9