Imagine it’s one or two thousand years ago, and you’re the only child of a skilled tradesman, like a brewer, carpenter, or merchant. You’re likely to be exposed to the tools of your parent’s trade practically from birth: you’d be surrounded by trade goods and ledgers if your parent were a merchant, awls and lathes if you grew up as a carpenter’s child, and vats and barrels if you were raised in a brewer’s household.
Now, imagine what your responsibilities would be. Back in those days, the assumption was that a child would follow in the footsteps of the parent, first becoming an apprentice, then a full skilled tradesman, and – perhaps ultimately – step into the trade and role of the parent someday. However, it’s very unlikely that you – as a child – would necessarily have fun doing so. Sure, you may enjoy your work, and you’d probably learn – when very young – through toys or games related to the trade.
But it’s unlikely you’d be drinking wantonly as a brewer’s child, or spending lavish sums on trivialities as a merchant’s apprentice, or breaking boards and sawing indiscriminately as a carpenter’s kid. You’d be too valuable to the parent to be allowed to risk harming yourself or the trade.
Now, in a similar way, imagine if you’re the noble heir of a just and wise ruler. Although surrounded by the trappings of power and privilege, you wouldn’t be permitted to run amok abusing those trappings. It would be imperative that you learn what you can about how to be a good ruler, how to use power responsibly, how not to squander or misuse the trust that’s been placed in you.
I had these thoughts as I reflected on today’s readings. From the Gospel selection of John, Jesus connects the dots between him and his Heavenly Father: “For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. . . For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”
Perhaps most strikingly, Christ says at the end: “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” In other words, although Jesus is a distinct person from God the Father – with different (fully human) perceptions and experiences – he’s not doing what he does on his own whims or desires. Rather, he seeks to do the will of the Father . . . his Father.
Of course, as both the child of a tradesman – Saint Joseph, husband of Mary – and the only begotten son of a mighty ruler (Lord God, heavenly King), Jesus would have both experiences and understandings growing up. He would have helped his foster father Joseph, aiding in the elder’s carpentry efforts to the best of his young abilities. And, as the son of God, he could have had unfettered access to the power and riches of the Almighty Himself.
This latter point is what the Devil tried to entice Jesus with in his second temptation in the desert, encouraging Jesus to fall off a parapet so that the angels would save him. Jesus, of course, resists this, saying, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'” Jesus knows he has access to this power and authority . . . but he also has the wisdom to understand that abusing that power and privilege doesn’t do the Father’s will.
I can’t help but reflect on that idea of “I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” We are all called to be children of God . . . not in the begotten sense that Christ is, of course, but adopted children through the sacrament of Baptism.
And, like other children, we should seek to do the just will of our parents . . . just as Jesus did. Being children of God isn’t a gateway to abuse power, but an opportunity to do His will. Priests don’t withhold the Sacrament of Confession from the truly penitential just because it suits their own agendas; they follow Christ’s teachings and grant the mercy given by God. Parents shouldn’t withhold allowing their children to be baptized or refuse to take their children to Church because it makes their lives easier in some fashion; they should seek to do the will of the Father. And so on.
Being a child of someone who is powerful or wise is a great opportunity and a wonderful gift . . . but it also carries with it a tremendous amount of responsibility. Jesus knew that well; as always, we should try to emulate him.