Jesus’ Self Knowledge

Infant Jesus





At what point did Jesus know who he was?

In medieval and renaissance art we frequently see an infant, and sometimes newborn, Jesus standing erect, looking out of the painting at, and making the sign of blessing over the viewer. Of course newborns can’t stand, can’t focus their eyes, and don’t have the fine motor to control to make any gesture much less the sign of blessing.

A pious jew of pious jewish parents according to the gospel accounts Jesus would have said the shema innumerable times. Jesus reveals the shema as the greatest command when questioned directly. Jesus answered similarly when he was tempted by Satan. And Jesus taught similarly when his disciples asked him how to pray. This all seems to distance Jesus from God.

But, Luke put’s a precocious Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. When his parents, having found him after a long search, question him he answers incredulously: “didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?” Here just as later he talks of God as his father. Likewise John has Jesus say to his mother at the beginning of his ministry “my time has not yet come.”

Thus there is a definite tension in the gospel accounts about who Jesus thought he was. And it seems that the overriding tendency among evangelicals today (I have the feeling that this is an overreaction to the complementary error of the biblical minimalists) is an overly high Christology. We should always let “Jesus be Jesus.” He was who he was and our elevating him above that is not pious, or humble, or reverential, or glorifying, our making him something he was not is nothing but wrong.

Looking backwards it is too easy to read the beginning with the end in mind. In the case of Jesus’ self knowledge we know Jesus as a resurrected, immortal, ascended, king enthroned at the right hand of God. We have trouble fathoming a Jesus who had to learn how to speak, who had to be potty trained, who had to learn how to walk, who had to learn how to read, etc. etc. etc.

But, if Jesus had been less human and more superhuman, like the infant Clark Kent, then he would have been creating disturbances throughout Judea well before he started his public ministry.

We should be prepared to be surprised as we continue seeking to meet Jesus the Judean peasant, and Jesus the enthroned king.

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