One of the most fascinating questions regarding Jesus is this: What did He know and when did He know it?
Even though Jesus is the Eternal Word, the One thru whom the entire universe was created, during the Incarnation He willingly lowered Himself to our level, temporarily giving up some of His omnipotence and omniscience (power and knowledge). The letter to the Philippians says, “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;…he humbled himself” (Phil 1:6-8).
So, Scripture clearly teaches that during His time on earth, Jesus did not know everything. For centuries scholars have debated exactly what did He know and understand about His mission. Did He know all the important details about His three-year ministry before it even started, as if He had a copy of the Bible as a reference source? (“Oh wow, I see that tomorrow I’m supposed to give the Sermon on the Mount. I’d better go review my lecture notes.”)
Or were the specifics kind of murky? Was Jesus proceeding each day on faith and trust in His Father, uncertain of the daily details but confident that His Father would guide Him when necessary? When did Jesus realize that He had to die to pay the price for mankind’s sins? Did He know that gruesome fact from the very beginning, or was it revealed to Him at some point in the middle of His ministry?
In this week’s gospel reading, we hear about the very early stages of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had recently been baptized by John the Baptist and experienced the 40 days of temptation in the desert. Now He returned to the Galilee region and began to preach. Initially He had success. Verse 15 of the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel (a little before this week’s reading) says, “He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.”
But then Jesus went to His hometown, Nazareth. In the local synagogue, the very one in which He was raised, He got up in front of the congregation and read from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…”
The gospel reading this week picks up the story here. Jesus rolled up the scroll and announced to the assembly, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The message was crystal clear. Jesus told them that HE, little ol’ Jesus who grew up in that very town, is the one, THE one, who has been anointed by God Almighty Himself. He told them very frankly that He in fact is the long-awaited Messiah for all of Israel.
At first many people were amazed and impressed. But then some said, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” and they didn’t mean it as a compliment. Basically, they were saying, “Wait a minute! You’re just the lowly son of a lowly blue-collar worker from a lowly little village in the middle of nowhere. Who do you think you are, pal?!”
The situation quickly deteriorated, and we read, “The people in the synagogue…were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill…to hurl him down headlong.”
Whoa, do you understand what this means? The people were so angry at Jesus they tried to throw Him off a cliff! They tried to kill Him!
So, I wonder, did Jesus know beforehand that this would happen? Or was He completely shocked by the behavior of His long-time neighbors? Did He get up in front of the congregation expecting a positive reaction, like He had experienced in nearby villages? Or did He get up thinking, “OK, it’s really gonna hit the fan today.”
Jesus was able to get away from the crowd safely. Scripture doesn’t give us any information about how He got away or what He was thinking at that moment. I wonder if He went back to Mary’s house and nonchalantly said, “Hi Mom. They tried to kill me today, but I knew that would happen. What’s for supper?” Or did He exclaim, “Ma!! I almost got killed!! What’s up with that?! Is this gonna happen every time I say something?!!”
Did Jesus lock Himself in His bedroom and pray feverishly, “Abba, Father. What gives?! You never told me anything about THIS?!”
I suspect at this point some people think I’m being a bit irreverent and even blasphemous. “Hey Dunn, you can’t say that about Jesus! You’re being disrespectful to our Lord and Savior!!”
I’m not trying to be disrespectful. I’m just speculating about what He knew and when He knew it.
After all, we know some basic things for sure about Jesus: 1) He was sinless. He was morally perfect. 2) During the Incarnation, although He was sinless He also was fully human (remember the Philippians verses), which means He experienced the emotional highs and lows common to all people. 3) In the Garden of Gethsemane, He was so distraught He actually asked His heavenly Father if they could try a different plan.
Thru it all Jesus never sinned. But being confused, surprised, and distraught are not sins. Those are common human experiences. I’m just wondering if Jesus ever experienced those things, that’s all. If so, this week’s gospel reading seems to be a likely occasion for surprise and confusion.
No, I’m not being irreverent and disrespectful. Contemplating Jesus’ possible surprise and confusion during His ministry helps me to relate to Him better. It makes Him seem less of a robot, emotionlessly following a carefully-crafted script and more of a real person with real daily struggles who must trust in His heavenly Father during times of uncertainty—just like all of us.
The daily struggles and doubts and lack of knowledge are certain to occur. If Jesus experienced these same struggles, it wasn’t a sin. We can learn from His example. He handled these struggles by trusting completely in His heavenly Father. We can and should do the same.