Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Christ Boy

The Gospels tell us only one story about the boyhood of Jesus, and it is not very often painted. When he was twelve and had been taken by his parents to Jerusalem, Jesus disappeared for several days and His distraught parents finally found Him in the Temple amidst the teachers of the Law. The point of the story is that the Child Jesus was the Son of God and felt His primary allegiance to God the Father. But this is not the event that Greg Tricker describes. This is the young Jesus in the carpenter’s shop of His foster father, St Joseph.

To the left we see carpenter’s tools, and he is stripped for work. Yet, to His right, is a bird cage which the Boy has opened to release three splendid doves. All three gaze intently away to the right, as if waiting to begin a purposeful journey. Jesus holds one dove seemingly ready to loft it to the skies where it can begin its flight. The doves, though ready, wait patiently, and the Boy Christ too, is patient. His slender body is wholly relaxed. However, this is not the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth, or, if it is, the background is not literal but a visual expression of the Boy’s mind. Behind the young Jesus stretch the calm waters of a sea. A boat waits with sail unfurled, as ready and as patient as the doves to begin a journey. The symbolism is manifold.

Here is a young boy, most tenderly depicted, innocence and gentleness almost luminously visible. He is at the beginning of the journey of life, one which we all travel, as we move from the safety of childhood into the difficulties of adolescence and maturity. We know something of this journey of Jesus, how He will grow into His full stature as the Word of God, how He will remain free of the cage of human selfishness and pride and how the nails, which we see beside Him in His foster father’s shop, will one day be used to impale Him to the cross. Physically, His journey will lead Him deeper and deeper into an understanding of the human heart, and spiritually it will lead Him deeper and deeper into an understanding of the Heart of God, His Father. (We must remember that Jesus ‘grew in grace and wisdom’ as we all do. His life was never static).

It is impossible for us to imagine what it must have been like for the young Jesus, aware of His closeness to God and perhaps groping to be able to define the uniqueness of this relationship. The journey that Tricker imagines is primarily an inner journey, one that we are all called upon to make but that few of us achieve. When Jesus on the cross cried out ‘Consummatum est’, it is accomplished, He was surely referring to His inner journey having reached its holy end. The work that His Father gave Him that here, in His youth, He is beginning to envisage, has finally come to an unexpected but profound fulfilment.

Look at the way Tricker paints the eyes of the Boy Jesus – they look inwards searching for the mystery of who He is and what He is called to. One thing here is clear: He knows He is called, as we are, to freedom, and by releasing the birds from their cage He is expressing His own commitment to the loneliness and the determination that are inseparable from being completely free. A gem-like sun is rising. It is the morning of the life of Christ.

Picture © Nigel Noyes