Monday, January 7, 2013

To Know Christ Jesus – The Early Years

Frank J. Sheed
1897 - 1981
I recently finished a book called “To Know Christ Jesus” by theologian Frank Sheed. Is there a better way to end the old year and start the new than getting to know Christ Jesus better? The book goes through the entire life of Jesus using all of the gospels in a chronological kind of way and this author has tendency to mention what is obvious, and yet not so obvious; you’ll see what I mean. It’s like someone giving you a tour of the life of Jesus, pointing-out things along the way that you did not notice or consider on other expeditions.

As a result one can get better at Christian trivia all the way from alpha to omega, so why not share for learning and for fun. Here are some insights, considerations and reflections from the life of Christ in the early years that might be new to you. Since this blog is geared a bit toward men and men are simple creatures, I often like to use bullet points and pictures.
Ø  Between the betrothal and a wife’s entry into her husband’s house, the marriage act was not customary among the Jews, but if it did take place, it was NOT sinful and a child born of it was legitimate. Only Josephs’ word of not being the father would have brought shame to Mary. All he needed to do was to trust God and take Mary as his wife.
Ø  What was the first wedding Christ was present at? Cana? No; the wedding of Joseph & Mary; He was already conceived and therefore present. No royal wedding had ever had a glory to compare with that. Today the poorest Catholic can have the same presence within the context of a nuptial Mass.
Ø  Mary had three months to spend at the house of Zechariah & Elizabeth, and Zechariah would have had access to the scriptures since he was a priest. In light of the supernatural events they had experienced in regard to the conception of their two children (Jesus & John the Baptist), never had three people better reason to carefully study the scriptures together. Imagine being a fly on the wall during that Bible study!
Ø  One more piece of evidence that Mary was not just “anybody”. She is the only person, human or divine, that can say to God the Father, “Your son and mine”.
Ø  Who were the ONLY ones who died to save Jesus from men who would slay Him? On Dec 28th we celebrate the feast of Holy Innocents; the boys slaughtered by Herod right after Christ was born. Sheed estimates that this would have been about 20-30 children given the size of Bethlehem. Sadly, this immediately reminded me of the 20 innocent children slaughtered in Newtown, CT also around Christmas time.
Ø  At age six Jewish boys began school. His school teacher was spared one difficulty His parents may have felt. No doubt the boy Jesus was a good student, but the teacher would not have known there was anything special about the boy or what the angel Gabriel said to His mother. It would have been a difficult secret to keep for so many years.
Ø  Imagine the boy Jesus reading the Old Testament, learning about the Messiah. It is hard to think the He did not discuss any of it with His parents as children would do. Imagine the dinner conversations! Once again, I envy the fly on the wall.

Ø  Thirty years old and not married? Men of Palestine usually married around age 20. Fathers of eligible daughters in the area must have weighed Him up and found Him more than worthy. Many must have wondered why He was not married by now, but His mother knew. It was probably the only peculiar thing about Him at the time.
Ø  To what human person did Jesus give the most praise? John the Baptist. “Among those born of women there is none greater than John” (Luke 7:28). Baptism was not something John had invented; almost all the main pagan religions had something like it as a way of spiritual cleansing. So what was special about John’s Baptism? Part of it was the insistence that the individual confess his own sinfulness.
Ø  Why did Jesus wish to be baptized if it was about confessing sins? The second thing Jesus says in all the gospels, after the incident at the temple when he was twelve, was “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mathew 3:15). It may have simply been because He saw John’s ministry and Baptism as a high point of the Old Testament and as a Jew, wished to submit Himself to it before proceeding to establish a new order.

Ø  After the baptism of Jesus, Sheed points out many interesting things about the duel in the desert between Jesus and Satan. The author reminds his readers that we humans do not have a fraction of the power and intellect of Satan, so he must have known that Jesus would probably not have fallen into his trap. Even we mere mortals get the feeling that if the goal was to get Jesus to sin, Satan could have done a better job.

So what might have been the real goal? Satan has a powerful intellect to be sure, but he is NOT all-knowing like God, so he may not have known exactly who Jesus was, nor had a clear understanding of the Trinity. Sheed suggests the real purpose of the temptation in the desert was to “study” Jesus, to learn more about Jesus through his answers and reactions, but Jesus would have known the real goal and left him frustrated, never giving any clear indication about who He was.

The early years covers about thirty years and the later only covers about three. I’ll continue with more insights from the later years in my next post. The baptism of Jesus is the luminous mystery that leads us to the proclamation of the kingdom of God on earth, a kingdom which requires a profound spiritual change from within to make possible. This would be the main theme behind all the teachings of Jesus in His public life in the last three years.


  1. This must be the Frank Sheed of the Sheed and Ward publishing house so prominent in Catholic literature publishing in years gone by. They occupied the position of prominence in Catholic publishing the DLT occupy today and brought out a lot of the works of Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc and Ronald Knox. They were a tremendous service to us when I was growing in the faith as a boy. In my view, my generation owes them a considerable debt of gratitude.

    1. Agreed! You’ll find quite a few things inspired by Sheed on this blog. Just use the search in the upper left corner. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Cogniet's version of the slaughter of the innocents is my (sad) favorite. The look in the mother's face, the baby's face, the other mother running. Astonishing.

  3. Always happy to see someone discover Sheed's "To Know Christ Jesus". It has been one of my favorite books for many years and I've read it and been enriched by it over and over. This book (along with Bishop Fulton Sheen's "Life of Christ") are indispensable companions to the Holy Scriptures themselves.

    1. Vince,
      I'll need to put Sheen's "Life of Christ" on my to read list. Thanks.

  4. In a time when New Year's resolutions can be so often petty or merely selfish, here's a good one: "Is there a better way to end the old year and start the new than getting to know Christ Jesus better?" I was delighted to read your post, Ben. You may be interested to know that Angelico Press will be releasing a definitive edition of this wonderful book in the next couple weeks which will include over 100 magnificent watercolors by the painter James Tissot.

    Vince, great call on the Sheen recommendation. We recently published Sheen's "Brief Life of Christ," which is about 1/5 of the length of the 559 page Life of Christ tome. You can check it out here:

    1. I really appreciate this information. Thank you!

  5. Hmm, good job! This is really something!