HomedotMagisReflectionsJesus the Layman

Jesus the Layman

Rembrandt "Young Jew as Christ," also known as "Head of Christ, done from life."In his forthcoming book Catholicism, Fr. Robert Barron makes the passing observation that Jesus was a layman: he was not trained in one of the formal rabbinical schools, or a priest or scribe of the tribe of Levi.

Jesus was not, to use contemporary language, part of the religious “establishment.”  Some would make him therefore into a kind of hero of liberation–the gritty iconoclast who critiqued the Powers That Be.

Yet that kind of image speaks more of us than of Him.  We love the stories of the pilgrims, the pioneers, the cowboys, the rebels: those who forge their own path, who choose (to use Robert Frost’s image) “the road less traveled by.”

Jesus the layman was not Jesus the rebel.  On the contrary, he sought God’s kingdom.  He sought to unite Israel and to bring people of other nations together under the kingship of the Father. What he hoped for was the perfection of the establishment that God had already begun in Israel over its history.

In imitating Christ, our aim is not to forge our own way, but to work with vigor toward the establishment of that same kingdom, to build a church of real people and not of vague ideas.  Our aim is perfect conformity to God’s will in communion with others.

Whether we are cleric or lay, we are called in service to different roles in the building up of that kingdom.  We imitate Jesus the layman who becomes Jesus the new High Priest precisely because his will and the will of the Father are one.

The task of the lay person today is thus in one sense no different from that of the cleric: to embed ourselves in the life of the Church in order that our will might be conformed to that of Christ.  His church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic: established to serve the Father, of one united will to reflect God’s greater glory.  One of the great tasks of the spiritual life is to learn how one’s own will might decrease in order that His might increase.  Let us sit at the feet of Christ’s body, the church, and learn how to participate in the building of that kingdom.

Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon is the author of a number of books, including The Ignatian Workout and Living Against the Grain, and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Boston College.


  1. Jesus was NOT a layman. He is our High Priest. “Having therefore a great high priest that hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God: let us hold fast our confession.” (Hebrews 4:14)

  2. A wonderful article why do our clergy and theologians make it so hard to understand. I love the simplicity of this article. Thank you.


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