Mark 6:1-6

There is a scene in the Gospels where 12-year old Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions.[i]And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”  Here is my hunch. All who heard Jesus were amazed at his knowledge: a precocious boy from Nazareth (which was a long ways from nowhere), and Jesus’ being sosmart. He dazzled them with his knowledge. 

Something happens in the ensuing nearly 20 years, the “hidden years,” before Jesus begins his public ministry. When he emerges from his seclusion, he does great deeds of power, healing, and provision; however something else “astounds” the people.  Astounds. They ask themselves, “Where did this man get all this?” And what are they talking about?  It’s not just about Jesus’ powerful ministry; it’s not just about his knowledge. Jesus is now filled with wisdom.  So we hear in today’s Gospel lesson: the crowds were amazed and asked, “What is this wisdom that has been given to him?”

In the New Testament epistles, Jesus  is named “the wisdom of God.”[ii]  Jesus is the one “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.”[iii]  “Wisdom and knowledge,” which are cousins. Wisdom and knowledge are related, but they not one-in-the-same. Jesus was not born wise.

The English words “wisdom” and “vision” come from the same etymological root.  Wisdom is a kind of deep seeing, an “insight” in life. Wisdom is not a skill, it does not form on demand, it is not a pill to swallow, nor gleaned from an academic course or best-selling book. Wisdom is a gift from God, a gift that needs to be cultivated. I’ll name two practices to cultivate the gift of wisdom.

  For one, it’s to live in the present. Not the “virtual present,” but the real present. Not to anesthetize ourselves; not to live in denial; not to live in the delusion that when something external is fixed, or completed, or inaugurated, or finished, all will be well. It’s not to presume the “geographic cure,” the great escape from whatever things are now that will make all things well. To live in the present is to presume God’s presence in the present with us now. 

Now is the gift. Which is oftentimes so unideal. Whether it’s to do with people with whom we live and work, or the setting where we find ourselves, or family-or-origin stuff (ours and others’), or whether we are chosen, or whether it’s fair, or whether it’s about the weather, or the government, or if the soup is cold… so many things, so many things unideal about life. Living in the present is living on speaking terms with the life we’ve been handed. Not the life we could have had or maybe think we should have had, but the life we’ve been given, the hand we’ve been dealt. It’s being present to life, being really present to God’s real presence, now.  This will cultivate wisdom. This is countercultural; however living life in the present will cultivate wisdom.

And secondly, it’s to not squander our mistakes. So much wisdom is gleaned from the redemption of what went bad in life. Deep down inside the black hole of failure, of wrong-doing (ours and others’), of disappointment, of grief and suffering… deep, deep down in that black hole is not emptiness but gold, which is waiting to be mined.

What was going on with Jesus during those 20 “hidden” years when he was growing up? We don’t know for sure. But his humanity must parallel our own, or he cannot be our Savior. I presume that Jesus was as lost as many of us were, and for long stretches of time. I presume that Jesus made as many mistakes as I have, as you have, in finding his way into life. I presume that Jesus was as much as clueless as you were, as I was, trying to find and claim his identity and destiny. Lots of bumbling. Some days, some years, I think he was an absolute mess. I remember in seminary, one of my professors saying to us 20 year-olds who were to become priests: “The problem with young priests is they haven’t lived long enough, to have sinned long enough, to have repented long enough, to have anything to say.” I don’t impugn sin upon Jesus, but I do presume plenty of mistakes and lots of confusion during Jesus’ hidden years. Jesus, as an adult, was no longer just knowledgeable. Jesus’ knowledge was now complemented by wisdom. Wisdom tempers knowledge with humility.  Jesus was not intimidating; he was accessible.

From the early centuries in the Egyptian desert, Abbess Syncletica, a wise, holy woman, said that “those who want to light a fire first are plagued by smoke, and the smoke drives them to tears, yet finally they get the fire they want.”  Out of the refiner’s fire of life comes wisdom. It’s a gift. Wisdom is cultivated over time, and is purified by the crucible of life. Wisdom is the real deal. 


[i]Luke 2:41-52.

[ii]1 Corinthians 1:24.

[iii]Colossians 2:3.

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18 Comments

  1. Wendell Bray on January 22, 2020 at 11:31

    True Jesus was divine and human, but, I believe he knew that from day one. To say he was bumbling like us may be going too far. There is some speculation that he may have been a part of the Essene community but again this is an assumption and we just don’t know. I believe he spent some time in meditation and was trained by the teachers (rabbis) of his day. The New Testament scripture seems to give some clues to this.

  2. Phillip Ayers on January 21, 2020 at 19:42

    I need this today! Going through a “bad patch” at present and it’s so good to have the comforting (e.g., strengthening) words of Curtis to get me through. Ora pro me! And Deo gratias!

  3. Pam on January 21, 2020 at 19:13

    This question may be a little off the mark, but reading this sermon brought it to mind. We believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. If that is the case, how can we say, as we often do about his crucifixion, that he was without sin? If he was fully human, how could he also be without sin?

    • Robert H. Mace, Jr., Th.M. on January 22, 2020 at 06:34

      Peace, Pam! That’s a question that has given theologians fits for centuries. While Scripture is insistent on Christ’s human-though-sinless nature (Hebrews 4:15 among numerous others), there is no empirical answer. Some suggest that because sin came first through Adam, not Eve, then Jesus was immune from sin inasmuch as his father was God, not a human man. Others were less convinced, Such that Pope Pius IX proclaimed ex cathedra the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which teaches that God acted upon Mary at the moment of her conception and freed her from original sin. The ensuing circular argument is that Mary, as Jesus’ mother, was preserved from original sin by the merits of Jesus Christ. Bottom line: it’s a question of Scripture blind faith since there is no conclusive consensus by credible theologians (that I could ever find, anyway).

      • Pam on January 22, 2020 at 10:07

        Thank you, Robert. That’s so interesting. That’s not the only thing for which there is no “proof.” It sounds as though this issue falls under that large category called “mystery,” which we live with all the time.

  4. Anne Kennedy on January 21, 2020 at 10:39

    Why do you leave Mary his Mother out of his Knowledge Of Wisdom. She must have home
    Schooled Him with great Love and Success. She was the source of his growth. AMEN

    • Bill Burke on January 23, 2020 at 00:28

      I think you can include her. I think one point of Brother Curtis is that Jesus had knowledge – perhaps from “home schooling” – but had to live and make mistakes to arrive at wisdom. A good parent can give you knowledge and love and support you when you fall. But if you never fall it’s difficult to arrive at wisdom. So Jesus likely fell many times on the path to wisdom.

  5. Eleanor Forfang-Brockman on January 21, 2020 at 10:06

    Thank you for your deep and insightful words. I particularly appreciate “Deep down inside the black hole of failure, of wrong-doing (ours and others’), of disappointment, of grief and suffering… deep, deep down in that black hole is not emptiness but gold, which is waiting to be mined,” because so many of us feel we went off track or were irreparably diverted from God’s real will for us by some choice that went wrong, or some unhappy chance…when all the time it is here at hand seeking to be born in this moment.
    Your words were a great way to start the day!

  6. Pamela Post- Ferrante on January 21, 2020 at 09:56

    I love so many of your sentences and paragraphs and words. “Living in the present” has always made we wonder exactly what the trick of that was.
    I love what you say: “Living in the present is living on speaking terms with the life we have been handed.”
    Thank you

  7. Julia E Bishop on January 21, 2020 at 09:39

    Could Jesus gone to the East and absorbed from other places and cultures?

  8. Margaret Dungan on January 21, 2020 at 09:29

    Margaret Dungan.

    Thank you
    Brother Curtis and also those who responded.

  9. Robert H. Mace Jr. on January 21, 2020 at 06:31

    A reassuring takeaway for me is that Jesus was just as human as I am. Our shared, common humanity evokes both the abyss of failures, pain, loneliness, losses and confusion, as well as the heights of divine inspiration, which inform (if only in part) what it means to be fully human. The human Jesus lives within a context of humanity which parallels mine and is a living figure whom I can embrace, on an important level, as an equal. The dimension of his divinity is a Christological accretion to discuss some other time. But within the parameters of this conversation, Jesus’ humanity is what frees me to embrace him as a beloved brother and to try to follow his example, to strive to learn from his wisdom, even as poorly and “humanly” as I do. God love the SSJE Brothers and you all.

    • Jeanne DeFazio on January 21, 2020 at 08:53

      Sharing this remarkable quote today;
      From the early centuries in the Egyptian desert, Abbess Syncletica, a wise, holy woman, said that “those who want to light a fire first are plagued by smoke, and the smoke drives them to tears, yet finally they get the fire they want.” Out of the refiner’s fire of life comes wisdom. It’s a gift. Wisdom is cultivated over time, and is purified by the crucible of life.

  10. Marcus on January 21, 2020 at 00:34

    Thank you to all the Brothers at SSJE who provide such rich spiritual guidance and insight and thank God for the internet and the inspiration that grants us the chance to share the brothers’ gifts around the world.

  11. Patricia S. on February 10, 2019 at 08:00

    I would like to think the Monastery and the brothers are part of the gold we have mined to help us live in the present and heal. Thank you to the entire SSJE community.

  12. Carol Muir on February 8, 2019 at 15:25

    I am in total agreement with Ellen.
    What a powerful sermon!
    I add my thanks.

  13. Ellen Cook on February 8, 2019 at 07:05

    You have offered us such profound gifts in a few words! First, the 12 year old Jesus astounded others by his knowledge, but years later saved people through his wisdom. And second, we should not squander our mistakes but commit ourselves to the work needed to mine them for gold. I like to imagine that God is handing us the tools we need – pickaxes and the like – to complete this lifelong process. Thank you.

    • Annette Palmer on January 21, 2020 at 16:46

      Your words comfort me, make me smile and always have this affect on me. I am inspired and so grateful to you. Shalom, Annette

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