Friday, July 1, 2011

The Humanity of Jesus

The Feast of the Sacred Heart is a time to celebrate the humanity of Jesus. His human heart fueled by divine love aches for all of humanity. I am posting below part of a talk I gave on retreat about Jesus' humanity.

Growing up in the disciplined environment of a Catholic school, my image of Jesus was much like that of the superheroes I read about in my comic books. He was all-powerful. No one could hurt Him. He did not show any emotion or feel any pain. I knew that He had died on the cross, but to my mind that was all just to show us how tough He was. And that is how I wanted to be. Above it all. Unmoved by anyone or anything. Hard as a rock.

As a kid, there was plenty of reason for me to think that Jesus was superhuman. As the Son of God, He knew all things. He could read the minds of those who approached Him. He had the power to cure people of their illnesses. In one scene from the gospels, He casts out demons from a man, sends them into a herd of pigs and then sends the pigs over a cliff. After His resurrection, He appears to the apostles even though the doors are locked. There was nothing that Jesus could not do. He was the most powerful man to ever walk the earth.

However, as I grew older, I came to see Jesus in a new light. Through prayer and by meditating on the gospels, I learned that He was not the superhero I first thought Him to be. Though He was God, He was also human in every way that we are. Not a super-human. Just human. Except for sin, there was nothing that we experience that He did not experience during His lifetime.

Like each of us, he needed a father and mother to protect and nurture Him. He needed to be fed and washed. He needed to have his diaper changed and to be taught how to speak, read and write. He went to school and had friends. He must have also known what it was like to be different from other kids, to see things differently than they did. There would have been many times when He would have felt left out and ignored.

As He grew through adolescence into manhood, He would have learned the carpenter’s trade from His step-father, Joseph. He would know the frustration of someone not being satisfied with His work or not paying Him. There were no doubt many times that He would have hit his thumb with a hammer or stepped on a nail. There were probably many nights that his mother, Mary, would help him pick splinters out of his hands. And sometimes He would be so tired that He just wanted to go straight to bed when He got home.

Jesus was not self-sufficient. He needed the love and friendship of others.Throughout the gospels, He takes time aside from preaching and curing the sick to eat at the home of his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. At the last supper, the apostle John who is often referred to as “the disciple Jesus loved” laid his head on his chest. Jesus is constantly taking the initiative to reach out to others whether it be the Samaritan woman at the well, little Zaccheaus, the tax collector from Jericho who climbed up a tree to get a look at Him or Peter. He cherished the friends He made during His lifetime and drew real comfort and strength from them.

Because He needed others, He also experienced disappointment. When he cured the ten lepers and only one came back to thank Him, He felt the pain of being unappreciated. At the Last Supper we can feel the hurt in His voice when He tells His disciples that one of them will betray Him. He feels especially hurt that Peter would deny knowing Him. And when He looked down from the cross to see that so many of His disciples had abandoned Him, He must have felt crushed. Despite the pain and disappointment He so often felt, Jesus never failed to forgive those who let Him down. He even prayed that God would forgive those who crucified Him. So great was His need to share the abundance of His love with all those He met.

We can very often think that, because Jesus never sinned, He did not have a real human experience of life. But the opposite is true. Jesus is not less human because He never sinned. Rather not sinning made Him more human. To be human means to be made in the image and likeness of God.Sin tarnishes that image of God in our soul. Sin makes us less human. Because He never sinned, Jesus not only reveals to us what God is like. He also teaches us what it means to be truly human.

We can also be tempted to think that, because Jesus never sinned, He could not possibly relate to our weakness and to the struggles we face. But that is absolutely not true. Because Jesus shared our human nature, He faced every type of temptation that we faced. No one here today has committed a sin that Jesus was not tempted to commit in one way or another. Whatever you or I are struggling with, He understands all about it. The Bible tells us so. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned” (Heb.4:15).

It is clear from His life as presented to us in the gospels that Jesus was not offended or put off by the weakness and sinfulness of the people He ran into. He was not looking for people who already had their act together. Rather He was reaching out to lepers, to tax collectors, to prostitutes and to all those who were outcast. He was not drawn to people because they were holy or righteous. He was drawn to people precisely because they were lost and because they were weak. The fact that He Himself never sinned did not make Him less compassionate with sinners. Rather it filled His heart with the desire to extend God’s love to them knowing that they were most in need of it. It drove Him to make the ultimate sacrifice - to die on the cross.

To have a relationship with Jesus, we do not have to wait until we have our act together. We do not have to straighten our lives out or be perfect. We only have to go to Jesus as we are with all our imperfections and weakness. We do not even have to promise that we will be good from now on. All we need to do is tell Him that we want to know Him and love Him. He will take care of the rest because He is longing to be loved by us.

Think about that for a minute. God is longing to be your friend. God pines for you. He wants you to run into His arms. Saint Alphonsus of Liguori describes it this way: “God loves us and seeks us out as if we were His God.” There is no way that He will reject you no matter how unworthy you may feel or how long you may have been running away from Him.

I am convinced that that is why the Son of God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As long as God stayed in heaven, we might fear and respect Him, but we could never really come to love Him. It was not until He became one of us with all our weakness and vulnerability that we could really come to love Him. God is willing to do anything to get us to love Him. He is even willing to allow His Son to be put to death for us.

Jesus in His humanity has something to teach us. He says to each of us, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Jesus can teach us what it means to be human. He can give us the strength and courage to let our guard down and risk being hurt to truly love others from the heart.

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