Nazareth, a treasure buried in a field

+ My first comment is that Nazareth is, firstly, a revelation of the mystery of God himself. We often say, in pious words, that at Nazareth God hid his divinity. But it is exactly the contrary: at Nazareth, God revealed his true face as God! When God wants to tell us who he truly is, he takes the face of a simple man of Nazareth, this village unknown in the Bible, in a peripheral region, distanced from the Temple and the religious centres, far from Judea and the circles of power, "crossroads of the pagan nations" and contaminated by them.
It is as if to say to us, "Every discourse in religions and theologies has presented me as the Most High, the Wholly Other, the All-powerful, the Absolute, the Separated One, etc. But these terms are only true if you agree to empty them of their usual meaning! And you would be closer to my reality – which, in any case, no words can translate – if you were to call me the Most Low, the Wholly Close, the One who involves himself with you, the Servant". Jesus affirms very clearly: "You call me Master and Lord, and rightly, for so I am; but I am a master and lord who washes your feet; and if you want to be mine, you also must act in the same way as me." (see John 13:13f).
The "Infancy Gospels", with their particular style, say nothing other: the Son of the Most High, the Messiah-King of the throne of David, the one who will be called Son of God, the holy being who will be great, is the firstborn son of a young woman betrothed to a man of Nazareth; he is born outside the town of his ancestors, a source of trouble for the king and for the whole of Jerusalem with him, accessible only to the excluded ones of the land and to people from outside.

And when he becomes aware of his mission, which is to be about his Father's business, in His house, he discovers through the astonishment of his parents that being with his Father means going down to Nazareth with them, and that being the son of the Most High means being subjected to them (Luke 2:49-51).
So yes, we can say to God, "The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are yours" on condition that we do not forget that his royalty is proclaimed in the writing on the cross, and recognised by a man condemned to death, the royalty of a Nazarene who gives his life when it seems that it is taken from him; that his power is that of the friend who begs for the renewed love of the one who has betrayed him (his betrayal was, precisely, "I have nothing to do with this Nazarene" Matthew 26:11ff).
We find it hard to accept this face. I was thinking this over during my recent visit to Rome: 2000 years of Christian piety have distanced us from this revelation, as if we were unable to approach God except in grandiose buildings, signs of power and wealth, standing at a distance: a need to sacralise our relationship to him. Poor Mary of Nazareth, a simple woman of the people and faithful mother, whom we can only imagine close to God by seating her on a throne, dressed in silk and crowned with gold!....
+ At Nazareth, it is not only the being of God that is clarified with a new light, it is also his action, his way of doing things. He no longer presents himself as the one who saves "from outside", "with a strong hand and arm outstretched". The Bible always stressed this mysterious preference of God for the poor, the despised: "When a poor man calls, the Lord hears!" (Psalm 34:7). With Jesus at Nazareth, this preference is expressed in a new way: although he is still the one who "gathers our tears in his bottle" (Psalm 56:8), it is "from within" by weeping them with us. "He took our infirmities on himself" (Matthew 8:17), the Gospel says, after the account of a series of cures; but he took them on, before all else, in his own flesh: "he was tested in every way that we are", and "he did not blush to call us 'brothers'," (Hebrews 4:15 and 2:11). It is the whole concrete nature of his life as a Nazarene (at Nazareth, on the roads and on the cross), everything that made him "like his brothers is every way" which made him "a merciful high priest, capable of making the expiation for the sins of the people; it is because he suffered trials himself that he is able to bring help to those who are tried" (Hebrews 2:17f), not just help in the form of cures and miracles, but the radical help of transplanting into us the life of God.

+ So God tells us, at Nazareth, something of himself that he could only tell us there; he makes us see a face veiled until then, a "mystery hidden from the beginning of the ages".
At the root of Charles de Foucauld's attachment to Nazareth, there is this wonder before the revelation of this face which overturns all our conceptions. Charles and JesusCharles and Jesus One feels this wonder in his unique way of putting together words that are totally opposed, "God"- "worker of Nazareth". One can sense it also at every stage of his life, in his search to be faithful, very concretely, to this face: "La Trappe caused me to rise up [...] That is why I left it, and here I embrace the humble and obscure existence of the divine worker of Nazareth..." . Charles' intuition was that if we want to hear the message and contemplate the face of God, we also need to "go to Nazareth": it is there that he reveals himself.
There is a treasure hidden in the field of Nazareth: to discover it is a source of joy!


What do we know about the Nazareth of Jesus? I will draw out just a few elements, which have not been inserted into the Gospel by chance, and which seems to me to be significant.
- The offering by Mary and Joseph, at the time of the presentation of Jesus, is the offering of "those who do not have the means to obtain a lamb or kid" (Leviticus 12:6-8), thus a modest family, but there are doubtless families who are even poorer (Leviticus 5:11).
- Nazareth and Galilee are deeply despised as places that are without significance in the history of salvation: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathaniel asks (John 1:46); "Study, and you will see that prophets do not come from Galilee" the Pharisees say to Nicodemus, who defends Jesus (John 7:52).
- When Jesus begins to teach and do miracles, the people of Nazareth are shocked, scandalised (Matthew 13:58): "From where does he get this wisdom and these miracles? Isn't this the son of the carpenter? Isn't his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Jude? And his sisters too, aren't they also among us? So where does he get all this?" And even the people of Jerusalem: "How does he know his letters without having studied?" (John 7:15).
+ The reply to their questions is indicated in the Gospel, and for my part I find it luminous: "They returned to Galilee, to Nazareth, their town. The child grew and became strong and was filled with wisdom. And the grace of God was on him" (Luke 2:39f, taken up again in Luke 2:51f). Twice, after two scenes that take place in the Temple, we are presented with Nazareth as a place of growth and grace and as a school of wisdom. These texts in Luke make reference to the story of the child Samuel (Luke 2:52 is a repeat of 1 Samuel 2:26); but for Samuel, it is defined several times that his place of growth in the service of God is the Temple (1 Samuel 2:11, 18, 21, 26 and 1 Samuel 3). So it is very significant, and certainly intentional, that Luke takes up the same expression in order to bring out better the radical difference and novelty of the situation of Jesus.

It seems to me that one has never finished discovering the riches contained in this presentation that the Gospel gives of the Nazareth of Jesus. We need to take the consequences of this seriously. I will indicate a few elements that touch me particularly.
+ For the religious groups, the circles of power, the doctors and the educated, Jesus is a man from below and from the margin. Certainly they do not have a better opinion of him than of those who follow him: "This rabble that knows not the law, all these accursed ones!" (John 7:49) – the TOB (Ecumenical Translation in French) translates it as "This mass..."). He is exposed without special protection, a simple pawn on the political chessboard in the eyes of the notables ("You do not understand that it is in your interests that one man should die than that the whole nation should perish!" John 11:50), he takes on, right to the end, the situation as a man from the ordinary people and this leads him to death. The Gospel, once again, clearly indicates that here there is a revelation of the face of God and of his way of doing things: "Do you not know that I could call on my Father who would send me at once more than a dozen legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be accomplished which say that it must be this way?" (Matthew 26:53ff; see John 11:51f).
For me, it is always impressive to think that everything that Jesus said to us, about God, about man, and about the relations between them, was thought and felt by someone from below, one of this "mass", of this ordinary crowd, despised by the experts and the great. The mysterious attitude of God who takes on, not humanity in general, but this precise humanity, doubtless because he judged it better as a way to express concretely what he is and what he wants!

+ There is another important aspect: at Nazareth it is in the school of simple people and ordinary life that Jesus forms himself, it is in contact with them that he grows "in age, in stature and in wisdom", through relations with his family, village and work, by observing life, people, nature, by listening, by drawing from the reserves of their faith. A treasure buried in a field... If we discover it, it produces a great respect in us (like Moses, who took off his shoes at the burning bush...) and a desire to place ourselves, also, at the school of the little and insignificant people, in order to be in a condition to receive the key to their wisdom: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for having hidden this from the wise and intelligent and for having revealed it to the little ones [...] No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son wishes to reveal him" (Matthew 11:25f). The Son who reveals is the "humble and poor workman of Nazareth" to use an expression of Charles de Foucauld's.

+ It is enough to read and re-read the Gospel to discover the type of personality that is forged in him at Nazareth. One always discovers new traits of it. Let us look at a few:
- Formed in prayer by the family liturgy and prayer of the synagogue, Jesus develops a very intimate and very special relationship with God, whom he calls "Abba, daddy". One sees all through the Gospel that he nourishes this relationship by taking time to prayer to his Father and speak with him: he gets up early (Mark 1:35) or else he remains late in the evening (Matthew 14:23). He isolates himself and people look for him (John 6:24). It is a relationship that is always awake, that one sees spring up spontaneously in the face of events and encounters (Matthew 11:25f; John 11:41) and which must also have had a discreet expression in the secret of the heart, because he learned that "the Father sees in secret" (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
- Probably because he had the experience of the look of contempt directed to the 'little people' and to himself, he always brings forward the value of the little ones: "Your Father does not want a single one of these little ones to be lost" (Matthew 18:14). Similarly, he does not tolerate at all anything that excludes, anything that creates categories resulting from origin and social situation: while they are unclean and everyone flees from them, he approaches lepers and touches them, thus contracting their uncleanness (Mark 1:40-45); he lets himself be touched by the woman with a bad reputation whom everyone points at (Luke 7:36ff); he admires the faith of the pagans he encounters, and even declares it to be greater than the faith he sees in Israel (Luke 7:9; Matthew 15:28).
- He has, in particular, a manner very much his own of looking at those whom everyone considers as sinners: a look of respect which refuses to condemn and always refers the accuser to his own conscience ("Let him who is without sin throw the first stone" John 8:7; "How can you claim to see the speck in your brother's eye with the beam that is in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3; "Shouldn't you have mercy on your brother as I have had mercy on you?" Matthew 18:33); a look of hope which glimpses an open future ("Go and sin no more" John 8:11; "There is hope for the sick man as soon as the doctor approaches" see Mark 2:17; "The son who was dead can come back to life" see Luke 15:32).
- He learned to see the simple everyday things as messengers which spoke to him of his Father. He had a kind of contemplative view of things and events which saw further: "Look at the flowers of the fields and the birds of the sky and think of your Father who watches over you all" (Mark 6:28). "Look at the grain which grows all alone and remember that the Kingdom grows little by little, even if we do not notice it" (Mark 4:27). "Look at this woman who sweeps her whole house in order to find the coin that she has lost: that is how your Father searches for all those who are lost" (Luke 15:8f). "Look at how the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), see how the wheat and the weeds grow at the same time (Matthew 13:24ff) and understand that the Father, who alone can say what is good or wicked, always opens an opportunity to come back to him."
- It is mainly towards people that he has this view that goes further and sees the heart. Because he knows too well that there is falseness (and contempt) in readymade ideas about people, and because he has experienced the spontaneous generosity of people who do not have very much, he knows how to draw attention to the true greatness and the true dignity of those men and women he encounters: as when he remarks on the tiny offering made by the poor widow who took something from her own wretched state in order to give everything, more than all the others together (Mark 12:41ff); or when he invited Simon to open his eyes: "This woman, do you see her? If she has loved so much, it is because she has been forgiven!" (Luke 7:44).
- One sees him always ready to learn, to allow himself to be questioned, when he encounters righteousness and faith wherever they come from: from foreigners like the centurion (Luke 7:1-10) and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) – both of whom express themselves in the same language imagery as Jesus – or from his mother (John 2:1-11; see Luke 2:48-52) or from a scribe: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34).
- He has an extreme sensitivity to the misfortunes of people, and in particular the poor. Several times the Gospel notes that he is touched by compassion, sometimes even that he is deeply moved interiorly: in the face of the crowds who are like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36), in the face of the widow who buried her son at Nain (Luke 7:11ff), before the sick of all kinds, those who approach him or those towards to whom he makes the approach (John 5:6). This compassion gives him courage in the places where the world capitulates, as with the possessed Gadarene men (Matthew 8:28).
- At Nazareth he gathers proverbs and stories, and he knows how to speak with the simple words of the people of the land. He also observes the people and the "great ones": the unjust judge (Luke 18:2ff), the rich man unaware of what is around him (Luke 16:19ff), the corrupt administrator (Luke 16:1ff), the priest and the Levite who are prisoners in their world (Luke 10:31)... He knows the humiliation and suffering of the poor who are incapable of making an invitation (Luke 14:14). He learned the daily good sense that made the simple people see the absurdities of the law when it is no longer at the service of life: "Who is going to make me believe that if his son or his ox fell into a well on the Sabbath Day, he would not go and pull them out because it was the Sabbath!" (Luke 14:5; 13:15f; see John 7:23; Matthew 15:1-5). Like the simple people, he has a sense of what sounds false, and he is quick to point it out: what he reproaches most often is hypocrisy. One day, he strikes out at the Pharisees who love money: "You pass yourselves off as just men, but God knows your hearts: what is raised up in the eyes of men, God is disgusted by!" (Luke 16:15).
- Of course, this way of doing things didn't earn him nothing but friends: he was told that he must be a drunkard, that he only thought about eating, that he only went around with disreputable people (Luke 5:30; 7:34; 15:2). The Gospel often notes that the great ones used to grind their teeth at him while all the ordinary people were filled with joy by the words of mercy that came out of his mouth, and by the cures that he did (Luke 13:17; see Luke 4:28; Matthew 15:31).
- At the beginning of the Gospel according to St John, we find the question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46); at the end, in the writing on the cross, Pilate writes ironically, "Jesus the Nazarene, king of the Jews" (John 19:19). Everything seems to prove the sceptics right. However, in the form of a gardener, Mary recognises the Master; in the unknown man on the lake shore, the beloved disciple recognises the Lord. There is no reversal, no change in his approach: the Master and Lord did not take up the form of a great personage that he had hidden until then – he remains Jesus of Nazareth, who is to be found in his own ordinary form: "You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one", the Gospel of St Mark says, "He is risen, he is not here [...] he goes before you ... to Galilee. It is there you will see him" (Mark 16:6f)
+ Why redo this portrait – which can always be extended – of Jesus of Nazareth? Firstly, because it seems to me that it is important to keep in mind always that if Jesus became the kind of man that this portrait sketches out, it was at the school of Nazareth that he became it. Of course, people will tell me that his being as Son, his special relationship with his Father and the Spirit with which he was filled, gave him an exceptional ability to penetrate into the deep meaning of the Law and cause him to know "what there is in man" (John 2:25). But if one wants to do justice to the Incarnation, one has to take into account the concrete circumstances of the life of Jesus. Or, in other words, if he had been born into a priestly family, or into the circles of power, if he had been educated as a doctor of the law, his language and his message would have had a different colouring. It seems to me that at the heart of the Christian message there is this fact that the face of God has been revealed to us in the traits of Jesus, and that Jesus, from the beginning of his life to the end, and "for ever and ever", has the traits of a Nazarene.
This should be a light for all Christians. But we, as Little Brothers, have received a special call. We have been seduced by "the human face of God at Nazareth", and we have set out to seek him, like the bride in the Song of Songs: "Show me your face, let me hear your voice. In the streets and in the squares, I will seek him whom my heart loves. 'Have you seen him whom my heart loves?" (Song 2:14; 3:2f). Each of us, with his history and by different paths, has had an experience of the kind that Charles de Foucauld had: "As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could do nothing other than live only for Him". This call caused us to join the Fraternity: "The Little Brothers of Jesus are called by God to live for Him alone, by entering into his loving purpose for humankind" as the first sentence of the Constitutions says. Charles de Foucauld first thought that in order to live for God alone and give his life for the salvation of the world, it was necessary to cut himself off from the world by placing himself behind the walls of a monastery (that was the classic response for a monastic, contemplative life). His own special grace was to discover, little by little, that in order to live for God alone and enter into the work of being a "saviour with Jesus", he had to take the paths that were those of Jesus (the contemplative par excellence): to go to Nazareth, to go among ordinary people and in particular those that were the furthest away. We also want to go there, both to give witness through friendship that they have value and that God loves them, but mainly because God lives among them, and among them he reveals his face: "It is love that should recollect you interiorly and not distance from my children. See me in them; and like me at Nazareth, live close to them, lost in God".