Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Real Baby Jesus

Of all the early Christian writings that did not make it into the Bible, my favorite is the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas", a collection of stories on the "Boyhood deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ." And of its many stories, my favorite is this:
Later he was going through the village again when a boy ran by and bumped him on the shoulder. Jesus got angry and said to him, "You won't continue your journey." And all of a sudden he fell down and died.
Some people saw what had happened and said, "Where has this boy come from? Everything he says happens instantly!"
The parents of the dead boy came to Joseph and blamed him, saying, "Because you have such a boy, you can't live with us in the village, or else teach him to bless and not curse. He's killing our children!"
(Greek Text, Chapter 4)
Who among us hasn't said or thought "Drop dead!" towards someone who hurt us? The difference is that we don't possess the power of God. Infancy Thomas portrays Jesus as one who has to grow and mature just like the rest of us, and along the way learns to use his talents and wisdom for the good of others. Here is the Incarnation in all its strange glory: a young man who is truly God, but also unmistakably human.

That is what I love about this gospel. It doesn't try to force the Incarnation into human logic. It celebrates it as a strange mystery: Jesus Christ, True God and True Human. Can we ever truly understand just how strange it must have been to be Jesus? The emotions and brain of a human being, along with the wisdom and power of God. What word is there to describe this reality other than strange?

The Truth that Infancy Thomas conveys is that the Incarnation is not this pretty feel-good image; it is messy and chaotic. It is not God coming to clean up our problems, but a Parent sharing in the beauty and wonder of their children's lives. Now, this may not be the Jesus, nor the God, that we want. It certainly wasn't for the bishops and theologians who rejected this gospel. But for at least a handful of average, ordinary Christians, Infancy Thomas spoke of a God who chose to be just like them. That is strange and glorious, and perhaps, worth a listen.

"You demand truth along your lines, your logic. Truth does not exist for you. You exist for it. Stop your arrogance and embrace the paradox of love."

As the final words of Infancy Thomas say, "To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen."