If we follow the traditional chronology, Jesus spent thirty of his thirty-three years with his family, and dedicated only three years to his mission as Messiah. He went
about Galilee and Judea, proclaimed the coming of the reign of God, and gathered disciples for only three years. The biblical exegetes claim that it was an even shorter period. Ten to one: we might be able to
understand this lopsided proportion in the case of a person who received his calling late in life, and then died relatively young-but how are we to understand such disproportionality in the Son of God? The only
Gospel episode from the “hidden” years of Jesus raises precisely this question: the twelve-year-old Jesus knows that he is the Son of God; he knows that he has a mission that obliges him to be “in what belongs to his Father”; and yet, he returns with his parents to Nazareth “and was obedient to them.”
The thirty-year waiting period was thus neither a mere coincidence nor a disposition of fate; rather, Jesus chose it consciously. The hidden years, too, belong to his
revelation; they, too, are a mysterium, a revelation of God's being in veiled form. What, then, does this mystery reveal?
First, and most clearly, the hidden life reveals that the Son of God genuinely becomes man. After all, to be a human being does not mean merely to possess a human body
and a human soul; above all, it means to be subject to all the conditions of a human life, subject to the “condition humaine.” The process of growing up and the necessity of learning are the first of these conditions, and precisely they are explicitly attributed to Jesus, and are even underlined twice: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him .... And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:40, 52). The evangelist's statements can hardly be construed as mere filler, especially since he is asserting the utterly shocking idea that God's Son “progressed” (proekopton) and had to grow into his “full maturity” (helikia).
Every instance of human maturation and learning comes to fruition in a family and in a given environment. This was also true of Jesus, we are told. His family was not
some kind of romanticized, cozy home in Nazareth, but an open, extended family-otherwise the disappearance of the twelve-year-old would have been noticed sooner, and we would not hear repeated references to Jesus’ “brothers” and “sisters” (Mk 3:31-35; 6:3; Jn 2:12; 7:3-10; Acts 1:14), as if the extended family context were the most obvious thing in the world.
The religious environment that shaped Jesus’ life in this family was that of believing Judaism. Thus the Son of God learned from human beings, who taught him to
recognize the way of salvation by which his Father had led his people, and to know the Law that he had given to them; and so Jesus grew up quite naturally in Jewish forms of prayer and ways of life (Lk 4:16).
A third characteristic of the “condition humaine” is the necessity of work. “By the sweat of his brow” man must earn his bread (Gn 3:19), and the “carpenter” (tekton) Jesus (Mk 6:3) was surely not an exception. Pope Paul VI’s call, already as Archbishop Montini, for devotion to Jesus the worker takes this consideration as its starting point.
A last, though hardly least important, characteristic of the “condition humaine” is patience, the necessity of waiting, and the boredom of a monotonous everyday existence. The mystery of Nazareth lies perhaps most profoundly in the act of waiting, in the delay of a most urgent commission. It teaches us that God has patience and can wait until “his hour is come” (Jn 2:4; 7:6).