I have this theory about how it was that Jesus came to be born without sin and it is just that – a theory. But I thought I’d share it with y’all because it has real implications for those of us who are or will be parents. Traditionally, it has been taught that Jesus was born without sin because he was conceived without sex. Because somehow it seems, the act of sex by our parents mysteriously implants this dark stain of sin on us at conception. While there is a verse in Psalm 51 which can be read to confirm this view, I personally find the idea that my parents having sex to conceive me made me sinful unreasonable and unconvincing.
Sex is a good thing. God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Sex allows the two to become one – to reach past ourselves into another. It brings joy and satisfaction into our lives. It is the means by which we bring forth life and become co-creators with God. It can be misused, to be sure, but how could something which is fundamentally a good also be the thing which stains us before we even have true being? Not to mention that the mechanics of how something my parents did when I wasn’t even there made me bad are problematic.
I don’t think that Jesus’ lack of sin had its roots in the way he was conceived. Rather, my theory is that his lack of sin came about due to something far less mystical and more practical – from his parents. Mary and Joseph had been told prior to Jesus’ birth that this child would be the messiah. Which means that before he was even born, his parents understood that Jesus was good, holy and anointed. Don’t you suppose that this knowledge influenced the way that they parented?
Orthodox Christianity teaches that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. But most Christians tend to give short shrift to the idea that Jesus was fully man. Rather, they seem to think of him as just playing at being human. He resided in a human body, sure, but otherwise, he was God. However, I think that unless Jesus had fully entered into the experience of being human – with all of its confusion, limitations and struggles – then he could not have been fully human. If he was born understanding why he was here and what he was supposed to do, he wasn’t fully human. If he arrived not needing to be instructed, not having to struggle with self-mastery, not being shaped by the culture and people around him, then he wasn’t fully human.
We know nothing about Jesus as a child, but certainly he must have cried as an infant. He probably got frustrated and lost his temper as a toddler. Maybe he showed off his ability to burp the Hebrew alphabet to relatives. Or pulled the goat’s tail. Spilt things. At the wedding in Cana when Mary tells him to help out with the wine situation, Jesus responds, “woman, it is not yet my time.” It makes me wonder if he wasn’t teasing Mary about all the times while growing up that she’d told him not to use his supernatural abilities because “it’s not yet your time.” Then there was the time when Jesus was 12 when he stayed behind in the temple while his family headed back towards home. If I had done that, my parents would have killed me. And telling them that I had to be “in my father’s house” would NOT have gotten me off the hook.
The reason I say that I think it was Jesus’ parents who were responsible for him being born without sin is because knowing that their son was good, they would have responded to his normal childish behaviors differently than those of us who believe we are parenting children born sinful. Perhaps this allowed them to see immaturity as immaturity rather than as a sign of sin. Perhaps this allowed them to see errors in judgment as simple mistakes rather than rebellion or willfulness. And perhaps this different perspective allowed them to avoid passing on their own brokenness.
I’m not in the least claiming that Mary and Joseph were perfect parents and that is why Jesus was perfect. Parents don’t actually have that must power over their children anyways. But the older I get and the more I work through my own struggles, the more I realize how damaging the message that there is something wrong with me has been.
When we reflect back to kids that their immaturity is sinful, we make normal growth and maturing a painful process of being wrong and bad. When we reflect a lack of judgment as rebellion, sin and willfulness, we similarly stunt their ability to grow while also undermining their trust in their own judgment. If we reject manifestations of their personality – playfulness, shyness, curiosity, determination – as sinful rudeness, withdrawal, impertinence or stubbornness, we teach them to reject the very tools God has given them to work with in life. And I do wonder if perhaps, working with the assumption that their son was good, Mary and Joseph avoided falling into these all too common parenting errors.
Of course, Jesus was God. You and I and our children are not. Yet, it seems to me that as people who have been redeemed from the wages of sin through the work of Christ, we ought to adjust our own parenting accordingly. Our kids are not God, but they are made in the image of God. This and not sin is their true identity. So perhaps if we start where Mary and Joseph started – with the assumption of their child’s goodness – we won’t pass so much of our own brokenness onto our own children. Certainly, we’ll do it imperfectly and our own children, not being God, will no doubt actually sin. But if they in turn parent their own children with the assumption of their goodness and pass on less of their own brokenness, we’ll start to look less and less like what we have been and more and more like Christ.