Gazing at Him….we learn to be human, Christian and Claretian.
Jesus’ as a formandus in Nazareth
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk.2.52)
The goal of Claretian formation is evidently following the Jesus of the Gospels, to grow in union and conformity with Him (GPF 12). All processes of formation aim at assisting the young formandi to realize their unity of life in Christ through the Spirit (PI 1). Our formandi grow through a process of progressive identification with the sentiments of Jesus and appropriation of his vision of life. Therefore, at the outset of our formative itinerary, we look at Jesus’ own story of formation in order to grow in Him. It is in his humanity that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, raising our human nature to its heights and rendering God’s glory visible (Jn 1.14). in order that his story continue in us, our human nature has to be formed into his “image and likeness” (Gen.1.26). We consider our formative processes successful in the measure that our formandi are assisted to reach this goal. Jesus grew up amidst a difficult socio-political context, akin to that of many of our formandi.
Jesus education: Gospels indicate that he was literate. He could read and write and enter into serious conversation with the learned of his time (Jn 8.6; Lk 4.16-30). In spite of his humble origins and his well known back ground of a carpenter, he surprised people with his integrity and wisdom. (Mk 6.2-3). He did not allow his poor working back ground to be an obstacle for his learning, though he did not have an opportunity for formal higher learning like Pharisees and Sadducees. His awakened self with its natural search for truth and goodness seems to have transformed the obstacles into opportunities of learning and growth.
Jesus’ formation at home
In the Jewish context of his time, family was of primary importance to impart knowledge and wisdom to the children (Proverbs 1.8; 6.20; 31.1), even though synagogues had come into the scene by then. Accordingly, the first formators and teachers of Jesus were Joseph and Mary. It is this family education that kept Israel maintain her traditions for centuries. Both parents actively inculcated values, attitudes and habits in the children. Jesus leant the trade of carpenter from Joseph. The religious attitude and practice that Jesus has imbibed was that of the anawim “poor of Yahweh” who lived in simplicity and fidelity in the hope of the Messiah to come.
His first mentors: In the school of the family of Nazareth, Joseph and Mary were his mentors. Their life and attitudes have a tremendous impact on Jesus’ formation.
Joseph is presented as a “just” man in the Bible. Ezekiel describes a “just” man as a morally and religiously upright person who is honest and charitable in his dealings with others and keeps the law of the Lord (8.5-9). Joseph’s nobility of heart and mind is presented in the way he responds to God’s directions in dream, his manner of treating Mary who was found with a child and his way of living through the displacement of the family to Egypt (Mt . The unstable social and physical circumstances which the poor artisan family had to undergo was compensated by the stability and integrity of the personality of Joseph.
Mary, his mother, had the depth of inner life to respond to her vocation and the challenges of her life. She faced events of her life with a deep religious faith and trust in God. Her response of Fiat (Lk 1.38) and the song of Magnificat (Lk.1.46-55) best express the attitudes of Mary towards life and her God.
Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews who fulfill the law and customs of israel. They take the baby to the temple to fulfill the prescriptions of the law for a firstborn. As per the law, they take the boy for the annual visit to Jerusalem for the feast of the lamb when he was 12 years. (Lk.2.41-42; Dt. 16.16). Jesus grew up in a climate of devotion marked by the strict observance of the traditions of Israel. Obedience to the wisdom of the ancients favours godly formation.
The family instruction often took place in the context of family meals at the fireplace where parents narrated the history of salvation, explained the meaning of customs and responded to the curious questions of the children. The kids learnt hymns and repeated the “shema”, “hear O Israel” recited both in the morning and evening. The various liturgical feasts offered opportunities for the parents to explain the children the saving acts of God in favor of Israel. It is at the family hearth that the hungry and the needy find hospitality. It is in this Jewish family context that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, in favour with God and men.
His learning at the synagogue school in Nazareth
Though there is no direct reference to Jesus schooling in the Bible, we can imagine how Jesus, like any boy of his time, studied scriptures at the synagogue in Nazareth. There were schools attached to the synagogues where boys learnt Torah and the prophets till the age of eleven. Here the pupils learnt Torah and the meaning of the scriptures in order to acquire wisdom, prudence, piety, fear of God, and to grow in “favor with God and men” (Lk.2.52).
Jesus must have been a diligent, receptive and critical student. The impact of his early education both in the family and at the synagogue school of Nazareth is evident in the way the boy Jesus argued with the learned in the temple of Jerusalem at the age of twelve. Jesus continued his ongoing learning by attending the synagogue every Sabbath to listen to the law and the prophets.
The absence of the mention of Joseph during the public ministry of Jesus could mean that his family had to suffer the loss of its breadwinner. Mary accompanied her son leaving him free for his mission, but staying close to him at crucial moments of his life .
Jesus learning from the school of life
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap…. The lilies of the field how they grow.. (Mt 6.26, 28)
Gospel accounts reveal a keen observer of life and nature in Jesus. He was an exceptional student in the “university of daily life”. In Israel a child has plenty of opportunities to learn informally from various social contexts: children’s games, celebration of feasts, social events, contact with the people of the market place, participation in the harvest, caring for the animals of the house, hanging around the meeting of the elders…
No wonder Jesus teaching is enriched by the examples taken from daily life. We find there the birds of the air and Lillies of the field, the mustard seed (Mk.4.31), germination of wheat (Mk 4.28), the leaven (Mt 13.33), the sower in the field (Lk 8.5), boys shouting in the market place (Mt. 11.16), woman kneading bread (Mt 13.33), the old and new wineskins (Mt 9.17), patching an old garment (Mt 9.16). The world of animals too taught him many insights about life. The camel and the needle (Mk.10.25), hen caring her chicks (mat 6.19), pigs in front of pearls, the wolf and the sheep, doves and serpents , (Mt.10.16), the vultures that gather around a corpse (Mt.14.28). Jesus’ way of relating nature seems to have had a formative role in the unfolding of his consciousness.
Jesus’ learning from the workplace
Is he not a carpenter? (Mc 6.3), a carpenters son? ( Mat 13.55)
We know very little of his 30 years before his public life. Of course, he must have lived those years in the ordinariness of the life of a Galilean carpenter. People identified him as a carpenter (tèkton) who in his time was more of a manual worker in construction work and in the agricultural field. It is possible that Jesus moved out of the little village of Nazareth to the nearby towns which offered building work. He also knew the world of agriculture very well. He was familiar with sowing (Mt 13.24), harvesting (Jn.4.35), collecting in the granaries, leasing of land (Mt. 31.33), contract with workers (Mt 24.14), their salaries (Mt. 20.2), investment in banks (Lk. 19.23) and loans (Mt. 18.23). He was also familiar with the life of the shepherds and the way they took care of the sheep (Lk. 15.3; Jn. 10). His experience of working and relating with the world of workers has offered him tangible experience of the struggles of the people .
Jesus learning from relationships with people and the society
“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk. 10.23)
It is evident that Jesus participated in the life of the ordinary people with a profound perception of the events. He could see the things from the perspective of the poor and the suffering. He could easily empathize with the suffering of the socially despicable people such as lepers, sinners and tax collectors and invite them to newness of life (Jn 8.11; Lk 19.8). A widow who casts a little coin would not go unnoticed (Mk 12.42) nor would the woman with a hemorrhage who touched his garments /Mt. 9.20). His contact with a wide variety of people in the society with a preference for the marginalized indicate his relational skills and the profound respect for the human person.
He is also aware of the pride of the powerful and the structure of exploitation in the name of God and traditions (Mt 23). He is able to identify the dynamics of power in social roles and the inconsistencies within them. He sees through the discrepancy between preaching and practice in the Pharisees and scribes (Mt 23.3, 13, 28) and the superficiality of their norms which attends to the minute details, making life burdensome for people (23.4) while neglecting the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith (Mt.23.23; 5.3). Jesus is aware of the power of structural oppression when the “rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise authority over them” (Mt 20.25). A critical consciousness of the world and its structures allowed him to stand apart with a prophetic involvement in the world from the perspective of God in favour of the people.
Jesus identity as a Galilean
“Is the Christ to come from Galilee?” (Jn 7. 41). Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee (jn 7.52)
Jesus grew up in Galilee which did not enjoy good reputation among the Jews. Mathew refers to Galilee as the “Galilee of gentiles” (Mt 4.15), citing Is.9.1-2. It imples the complex reality of this part of Palestine which suffered several invasions and influences from the surrounding pagan nations. Consequently the Jerusalem Judaism did not esteem the supposedly corrupted religiosity and practices of Galileans. Jesus grew in a environment of interaction between cultures and experienced discrimination based on petty cultural differences.
Formed by his intimacy with the Father (Abba)
“All that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you” Jn 15.15
Among the various realities that shaped his personality, the central and organizing factor is his intimate relationship with God the Father. People recognized that his wisdom could not come from his home and school (Jn 7.15). Jesus refers to the Father as the source of his authority and knowledge. “ (Jn. 7.16; 8.28; 17.8; Lk 10. 22). In an unprecedented manner, he called God his “Abba” (daddy).
He spent intimate moments in communication with his Father in prayer. Gospels attests to Jesus’ frequent and profound moments of prayer before all the important events of his life. He prayed before his baptism (Lk 3.21), before important miracles (Lk. 5.16), before the election of disciples (Lk 6.12), at transfiguration (Lk 9.28-29), before his passion (Lk 22.41). Prayer has become the formative ground that prepared him for important events in his life.
It is in his relationship with his Father in prayer that he progressively became aware of a secure and solid filial identity which directed his personal life and actions. All other identities (Galilean, Jew, man..) could be well situated within this foundational identity without absorbing his energy to defend them. His interior freedom to direct himself to do the will of the Father at all costs and his relational freedom to affirm and challenge people of all walks of life seem to flow from his anchoring of his person in the Father.
His filial love to the father, fraternal care for others and the commitment to do the will of the Father seem to be closely linked to his awareness of being anointed in the Spirit of the Father (Lk. 4.18-19; Lk.4.1). He lived the whole mystery of his life, passion and resurrection in close communication with the Spirit of God.
The dream of a formandus is a formative journey with and in Jesus. From the above quick glance into the formative years of Jesus, we identify the following important factors of formation:
- Central formative influence of God the Father in forming his identity as Son anointed and sent. A stable Prayer life is the formative means to keep himself tuned to listen to the Father and process his daily experiences. (The central place of God’s action in formation; hence the fundamental importance of prayer and discernment in formation).
- Openness to learn from his parents, elders and the wisdom of his tradition. (The role of formators and the receptivity of formandi in formation)
- A willing and sharp mind to learn and understand the truth. (Motivation for personal growth)
- Keen observation of nature, society and people. (Cultivation of human resources in formation)
- A critical consciousness that is able to evaluate his experiences from the perspective of God and his people. (Formation of conscience and character)
For reflection and introspection
– Have you owned up the responsibility for your own formation? How do you concretely express this responsibility?
– What place do you allow God in your discernment and growth in the course of your formative journey?
– How do you benefit from your formators and the wisdom of the tradition of the Church & the congregation for your growth?
– Which of your identities stands out strong in defining your person? Your race, nationality, sex, charismatic vocation, faith…? What does it mean to call yourself a child of God (or God as your Father) affectively and effectively?
– What place do the poor and the suffering have in your life?
– What role does nature (the creation) play in your formation?
Practice to make your formation effective
– Dedicate certain amount of time daily for personal prayer and discover your own habitual mode of communicating with the Spirit of Jesus and His Father.
– Learn ways to link your life and its struggles with your prayer, sacraments, Lectio Divina and the insights from your study.
– Trust your formator and regularly share your vocational growth process with him (At least once a month).
– Develop relational skills and emotional maturity for a meaningful pastoral commitment.
– Cultivate homely relationship with your own human nature and the nature around you.
– Improve your intellectual skills and critical consciousness to understand and evaluate what is going on in you and around you.
Mathew Vattamattam cmf
General Prefecture of Formation
Jeremias Joachim, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1975
Herman Horne, Jesus the Teacher, Examining his expertise in Education, Kregel Publications, 1998
Grenier Brian, Jesùs el Maestro, San pablo, Madird, 1996
Peresson L. Mario, La Pedegogìa de Jesùs, Librerìa Salesina, Bogota, 2004
Kenneth E Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, Intervarsity Press, 2008