Coming of Age
There are some well-known passages of scripture that we have come to internalize and which have profound meaning for us in our present circumstances. However, we may not realize that the writer, influenced by the Holy Spirit, may have drawn from experiences which are no longer familiar in our culture. Such is the passage from being merely a child to being an adult, with all the rights, responsibilities and appurtenances thereto!
When I was a teenager, the age at which one would be considered an adult rather than a minor was twenty-one. Up until that time I was subject to the dictates of my parents. Or as my father, but more especially my mother, would say, “my house, my rules”. On my twenty-first birthday I was given a key to the door of my parents’ house and was unrestricted by curfew. I registered to vote. I asked my girlfriend to marry me! The law considered me a fully responsible adult — regardless of my actual maturity!
That all seems quite quaint by the standards of today, and certainly so compared to the customs of Jews in the first century A.D.
On the first Sabbath after a jewish boy had reached his twelfth birthday, his father took him to the Synagogue , where he became “A Son of the Law”. His father then recited a benediction,
“Blessed be thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy.” (Yes! Really!)
The boy then prayed and said, “O my God and God of my fathers! On this solemn and sacred day which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes to thee, and declare with sincerity and truth, that henceforth I will keep thy commandments, and undertake and bear the responsibility of my actions towards thee.”
One minute he was just a boy, the next, a man!
In Greece a boy was under his father’s care from seven until he was eighteen. Then he became what might be translated as a “cadet”, and for two years he was the responsibility of the state. The Athenian people were divided into ten phratriai or clans and at age twenty-one his long hair was cut off and offered to the gods and he was accepted into one of the clans as a responsible adult. One day, a boy, the next, a man!
Under Roman law the year at which a boy grew up was not definitely fixed, but was always between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. On the appointed day, his family held a sacred festival where he exchanged his childhood toga with a purple border, for that of an adult — which was pure white. He was then noisily paraded by family and friends to the forum where he was formally introduced into public life.
There was a custom that on the day of attaining adulthood there would be a trip to the temple of Zeus, where a boy would offer a ball as a sacrifice and a girl a doll. These sacrifices were to show that they were now serious adults and had put away childish things.
Perhaps my last sentence echoed for you the words of Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV
Interestingly, Paul was Jewish, born in a Greek province of the Roman Empire and as such he would have been familiar with the all the rites of passage I described above — as would be his readers in Corinth. It is as if Paul is (not too subtly) reminding his readers that when the Holy Spirit takes over our lives, at that moment we are no longer game-playing infants, but are considered spiritual adults, made in the likeness of God, and responsible for our actions. We can no longer throw spiritual temper tantrums when we don’t get our own way, but rather, as responsible citizens of heaven we are expected to act according to the leading of the Spirit. Since I’m sure you’ve read and heard Paul’s words in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, that means imitating Jesus and his love. The really good news is that the Holy Spirit gives us this love as a gift so we can share with others. It’s as if Paul is urging the Corinthians to “grow up”!
Living in love is a sure sign of a “grown-up” christian. We have to be different than the noisy, squabbling, babbling spiritual toddlers who surround us in our daily lives. Let’s make sure we are always the spiritual adult in the room or church. Taking Christ as our example should be how we become an example of Christ to those around us. Let’s be that grown-up christian person! Grow up — and then grow some more!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black