Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Human Side of Christ

Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.

There is one aspect of the Gospel story that must strike any careful student. The fundamental fact of our faith is that Jesus Christ our Lord is very God, yet the special object of the Gospels seems rather to be to emphasize the fact that He is very Man. He has gone out of His way, if we may put it so, to make us feel and know that He is one with ourselves. He preferred always to call Himself the "Son of Man," and, as the writers of the Gospels chose the material for their work, He inspired them to choose just such details as emphasized His feeble, human side. By doing so He knew, if again with reverence we may say it, that He was risking very much. He knew that men would use it against Him; He knew that generation after generation would take up this undeniable evidence, and cast it in the teeth of His defenders; He knew that it would be for the fall as well as for the resurrection of many in Israel. Yet He preferred that the risk should be run; He preferred that insult after insult should be offered Him then in the flesh, and afterwards in the Spirit, rather than that men should say that He in any way fell short of His title - the "meek and humble of heart." One prophecy of Him, at least, should not be frustrated - that "He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows." It was from His heart that He cried, "Blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in Me," yet, when His fellow-townsmen wondered and said: "How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His Mother called Mary, and His brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Whence therefore hath He these things?" And they were scandalized because of Him - when, I say, all this happened, He made no effort to undeceive them. The evidence they brought was too valuable for the end He had in view. Yes, even though He was compelled broken-heartedly to cry out on its account, "All you shall be scandalized in Me this night," He was willing and preferred that so it should be.

What, then, was the end He had in view? It is not very far to seek. While He lived among men, it is true, it would be easy enough to recognize His manhood; but how would it be when He was gone? His memory would be handed down from one to another; the wonderful things that He had done would be recorded. From time to time, it might be, the tales that were told of Him would be over-coloured - at all events, the distance of years and the barrier of death would separate men from any true experience of Him. How much easier would it then be to believe that He was indeed very God, but that He was man only in appearance! God had appeared on the earth before. He had walked with Adam in the Garden, yet had not been man; He had appeared to Moses in the bush, yet had still been God, and not a fire; He had thundered from Mount Sinai, yet it had been no more than a manifestation; He had filled the Ark and the Temple with His presence, yet there had been no thought of any assumption of a new nature. Might it not, then, be the same on the occasion of this last manifestation? Might God-made-man be no more than God appearing as man, as He had appeared in other ways before?

He knew that this doubt might be; indeed, He knew that it would be. Since He passed from the earth, the difficulty of mankind has been to keep its balance. Either it becomes too learned in the signs of His human nature, and so fails to see that He is God, or it is overwhelmed with the proofs of His divinity, and hence doubts - in practice, at least - the evident fact that He is man. And the second, it would seem, was the danger the most dreaded. Against it He would make the most careful preparation. If men denied His Godhead, they were not of His own, and He would leave them to the mercy of the Father; but if men denied or doubted His manhood, then He knew that they were His own, who had been unable to understand. And these, above all, it was essential that He should help. He must not let them doubt His relationship with themselves; He must not let them think He was removed from them, that He belonged wholly to another sphere, another order of creation; He did not know, and understand, and feel whatever they endured; that they were called upon to carry a burden which was not also His own. At whatever risk, this must not be permitted. Neither the greatness of His teaching, nor the wonder of His miracles, nor the confession of devils, of men, of Angels, and of the Father Himself, should so exalt Him as to make His children think that He was not one of their own household.

So in all the weakness of infancy He submitted to be born at Bethlehem. He could not have emptied Himself more. From the beginning He lay at the mercy of men, at the mercy of His parents, at the mercy of Herod, helpless in the shriveled hands of Simeon and Anna, and never raised a finger as a sign of His power. At Nazareth He grew into manhood no more quickly than others, with no more striking signs to show it, so that, at the end, men who knew Him could wonder how He came by His knowledge. When His time for action came, He submitted, like any common sinner, to the baptism of penance. This, He told John, was but a fulfillment of justice. So far did He identify Himself with guilty man - "made sin," as St. Paul later uncompromisingly put it - He is led into the desert to prepare; He fasts as the price of future victory; He is tempted by a devil. How much lower can He go? Now and throughout the years after He shows human weakness, human needs. He is hungry in the desert, at the well of Jacob; but a few weeks later, He is thirsty and worn out; more than once, as the months of His short life roll on, He is in need of nourishment and rest.

Indeed, so integral a part do eating and drinking play in the life of men, that He would leave no doubt upon this head. He eats with His friends, and He eats with His enemies; He eats with Pharisees, and He eats with publicans and sinners. His first formal appearance before the world is at a marriage banquet. Some of His most momentous lessons are delivered across the table; some of His most wonderful acts of condescension are performed in the midst of eating. He shows His friendship by dining with those He loves; He rewards His converts by sitting down at their table. For it He even submits to be taunted: "Behold a man that is a glutton and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners" (Luke 7:34). He is entertained by Simon the Pharisee, by Levi the Publican, by Simon Peter the Apostle, by Lazarus raised from the dead. It is at table that He institutes the Blessed Sacrament; and even after His Resurrection He eats to convince His disciples that He is not a spirit, and by others is recognized "in the breaking of bread."

But if His body was so very human, needing food and drink, needing rest and sleep, what shall we say of His quivering human soul? "Who is weak, and I am not weak?" says St. Paul. "Who is scandalized, and I am not on fire?" In another place, he says: "Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ"; and elsewhere: "He was made in all things like to man, sin alone excepted." Put the three together, and we have the truth; and our Lord has taken care that this, too, shall be stamped upon the Gospel story. When a young man comes to Him, led by a generous ideal, the Heart of Christ bubbles with affection: "Jesus, looking on him, loved him." When He meets a poor widow wailing for the loss of her only son, He is "moved with pity," and cannot contain Himself. When people do not thank Him, He is hurt; when they do, He overflows with gratitude. He has a tender place for children, and no less tender a place for wistful, half-despairing sinners - for Zachseus, and Levi, and Magdalen, and Peter. He is roused when His friends are abused, enthusiastic when they are praised, compassionate when they are suffering or in want, when they are being tried, indulgent as a mother. And, to crown all, He breaks into tears - cries because a dear friend is dead, cries again at the thought that His own Jerusalem had failed Him.

Then there is the story of the Passion - a story of human weakness without a parallel. The Evangelists strain to find words that will adequately describe Him as He enters upon it. "He began to be sorrowful, and to be very troubled." "He began to be dumbfounded." "My soul is sorrowful, even to death." These are the phrases with which they bring Him upon the scene. But that is a story by itself. Even without it, of one thing we are certain - that Jesus Christ is very man. "It behoveth Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might become a merciful and faithful high-priest before God, that He might be a propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that wherein He Himself hath suffered and been tempted, He is able to succour them also that are tempted" (Heb. 2:17-18).

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