This year my half birthday falls on Good Friday; I will be halfway through my 33rd year. I’ve thought a lot about Jesus over these past six months, wondering what human life was like for Him, wondering whether He started counting down the days to the cross, knowing full well what was coming.
At my church we’ve been going through the Gospel of Mark during Lent in partnership with other churches across our city, around the country and around the world. As part of that focus we’ve watched narrated video segments each Sunday from Bible.is to start the sermon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more moving “Jesus movie.” Really, I think I cried in the very first segment — and that was because Jesus looked so Jewish. I know that probably sounds funny; what I mean is that for a long time, actors who played Jesus often didn’t look like they could have been born to a fully Jewish woman in first-century Palestine. And they often looked so well-groomed and untangly, despite the fact that Jesus had no house to call His own and He and His disciples did a lot of walking and sailing all around the country. The actor in these films, though, has kind of wild curly black hair and a beard in which you can frequently see patches of gray. I had never before imagined Jesus with gray in His hair. But who’s to say it wouldn’t have been there? I’ve been graying since I was 23. Jesus was fully God and fully man; He was without sin, but His body was still subject to the effects of the curse of sin — if you pricked Him, He would bleed.
And so, as He entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, as people paved the road with their coats and shouted “Hosanna!” (“O, save!”) at the top of their lungs, Jesus was 33, or thereabouts. What was He like? Did He have crowsfeet at the corners of His eyes from laughing, or thought-wrinkles creasing His forehead? Was He sunburned or tanned from a life spent outdoors, or had His carpentry work kept Him inside? Were His fingers and hands still rough with callouses from the tools He used to shape wood and stone? What did His laugh sound like?
In my church small group we’ve been discussing the book of Mark for the past seven weeks as well, and, in a conversation at the start of Lent, someone wondered why Jesus waited until He was 30 to start His ministry — and why 30 rather than 40 or some other age. And why He died at 33. “It’s the prime of life,” the person said. “Yes it is,” our leader Nate replied with a laugh. He himself is 33, and he and his wife had just recently celebrated their first anniversary. Nate is a big guy — he makes my 6’2″ father look small — with a sharp mind, a gift for a clever pun, and a huge heart. Today as his wife and I stood talking after church he ran by with one of my nieces perched on his shoulders, and in a matter of seconds had additional children clinging to his legs. More often than not he is covered with kids who ride him like a horse or climb him like a mountain — and yet he’s also gentle when cradling teeny wee babies in his arms.
We know from the gospels that Jesus loved kids — did He also roughouse with them? Did He engulf them in bear hugs or melt when a little one gave Him a squeeze around the knees? Did children fight over who would get to sit in His lap and listen to Him tell stories? What was He like with his younger brothers and sisters — and was Jesus ever an uncle here on earth?
Even if the 30s are the “prime of life” for a decently healthy person, there are some things you start to feel more at 30, or 33, than you did at 20. Did He ever just feel exhausted? Actually, we know the answer to that one — He fell asleep in the boat and was still apparently sound asleep even though the sea and the wind were rough and wild enough that the disciples were convinced that they were all going to die. Did He have weird recurring aches and pains from old injuries? Did His joints get stiff if He sat in one position for too long? Did He ever have nightmares?
Was it ever hard to wait for His Bride?
Several years ago I was thinking idly one day about weddings (as one does) and the fact that a woman can have her “ideal wedding” all planned out to the smallest detail, but if no one ever asks to marry her, nothing comes of all that dreaming. And then, everybody always makes such a big deal about the woman getting married that the man — who, more often than not, initiated the happy event by asking her to marry him — can get lost in the shuffle. “There is no bride without the bridegroom,” came a voice in my mind. More importantly, there would be no Bride without the Bridegroom Himself, Jesus.
As His childhood acquaintances started getting married, did people elbow Him in the ribs and say “One of these days, Yeshuah, that will be you!”? Did Mary want Him to find a sweet woman and start a family? Did the girls in His hometown make eyes at Him or drop by where He was at work in hopes of starting a conversation? Was it ever hard to wait, knowing that His own marriage feast would be thousands of years beyond the day when He first began to claim Him Bride?
Was it ever difficult for Him to know that, while what He came into this world to do would completely shatter the wildest dreams of anyone and everyone who knew Him, yet He would never be able to exactly fulfill the expectations of those closest to Him? “What’s he doing with his life?” I’m sure some concerned friend or relative asked somewhere along the way. His own mother — the handmaiden of the Lord and the treasurer of mysteries — and His siblings thought He’d gone crazy. And then His disciples repeatedly misunderstood Him as well. At one point in the gospel accounts we hear Jesus sigh and say “How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” I have groaned similar (though less polite) prayers many a time through the years — and often multiple times a day.
It’s comforting to know that, even though Jesus was the perfect Son of God, He still experienced frustration, anger, sorrow and amazement along with the feelings of love and compassion that we typically talk about more in relation to Him. It’s comforting to know that He was misunderstood and underrated. It’s comforting to know that He sometimes dropped off and slept like a log even though He was right in the middle of a storm. It’s comforting to know that He very well might have experienced the ache of waiting.
And yes — it’s comforting to know, in a weird and sweet way, that at 33, Jesus might even have had some gray hair.