From the time we can toddle around on our own we are taught that Jesus is two things: he is God, and he is man.
Sometimes, because of the way he died, we are profoundly confused about just how and why he is God. If he’s God, why can’t he just wave his finger and make his nightmare go away?
But the whole, we’re going to hunt you down and kill you, aspect of his life will have to wait to be explored.
Instead, I want to look at the phenomena that is Jesus, the man.
Alexander Pope once wrote, To err is human. To forgive is divine.
Just with that little idiom we can see that perhaps understanding Jesus as God isn’t that impossible after all.
He forgave us.
He forgave us our sins.
While nailed to a cross.
Perhaps not so easy to comprehend.
But the first part, To err is human.
If we are to believe that Jesus is a man, is human, then we have to believe that he erred.
We all err.
Every time I turn around I find that this is not the way people view Jesus at all. Instead, Jesus becomes a kind of superman.
The pronoun assigned to him is Capitalized. At times the bad grammar fairy goes wild and Capitalizes all sorts of words, just because they are in the same sentence with him.
I tend to call this, fart theology.
Fart theology has a kind of story to define it:
Jesus is at a banquet. He is eating spicy foods. Beans. Cabbage. All sorts of foods that cause the human body to create gas. And some of this gas in the body of Jesus is released. He continues to teach and feast. But when this story is looked at by theologians something happens: the fart can’t be ignored. Oh, no. It has to be expounded upon. So we get the teaching that when Jesus farted, it was a most amazing experience. Not only did the fart itself smell like the sweetest rose nectar, but all those who were graced by the smell of it were completely healed of all that ailed them.
We’ve taken a perfectly ordinary act of Jesus and turned it into Heaven on Earth.
Jesus lets his disciples steal food because they are hungry.
Sounds pretty human to me.
And then there’s the story of the fig tree.
That was fried because it wasn’t in bloom when Jesus wanted it to be.
Which is an assertion of want. Not need.
Of wanting, beyond the taste of a piece of fruit, to use his divine power to manipulate things here on Earth. To make all things on Earth bow to his authority.
When not even God, the Father, does that.
A poor tree. Just standing there. That is destroyed out of anger and frustration at meeting one of his limitations on Earth.
To err is human.
Jesus wasn’t just a man. He was a young man.
Perhaps if we had stories of him as a wizened, old man, we would have very different stories. Perhaps we would have a Jesus that knew what he could do with the grace of his father, and what he couldn’t do because, on some level, he was a mere mortal.
But we don’t want that. Especially not the church.
That teaches not that Jesus was man, but was a kind of superman.
Jesus is perfect.
I heard that just the other day from a priest.
Jesus is perfect.
But what is the point of that?
If Jesus is perfect, made of Teflon, then nothing can really touch him. Which means that the tears he shed under the tree are meaningless to us.
We see Jesus cry out to God, but if Jesus is perfect, then we are just looking at a picture. Not a man, down on his knees, pleading for his life.
After all his open acceptance of his way. Of what was going to happen to him.
After all those words of reassurance that he knew what was coming and that he accepted it, he didn’t accept it.
He stopped and realized the reality that was before him.
And in that horror he wanted his men to be there for him. They weren’t. They slept.
They could care less.
Here is Jesus having a crisis of faith – literally – and he is abandoned.
But the worst aspect of making Jesus always shiny and new, and by that, missing the point of his humanity altogether, is that it gives us the excuse we use everyday to not take him as Lord. To distance ourselves from him, with satisfaction.
If Jesus is perfect, and we can never be perfect, then we can go along in our lives and not change. Not strive to be like Jesus.
If I try to be like Jesus, and it’s impossible, why bother trying in the first place?
A man who choked. Who fried trees. Who transformed wrong acts into good just on his say-so.
I mean, just think of the disrespect he showed his hosts by refusing to wash before a meal. What was the point of that anyway?
And, no, rudeness is not a sign of God.
But we don’t want to look at those passages and just let them be.
Let them tell us about Jesus.
Who was at times miraculous.
And at others just a plain, ordinary man.
If we don’t accept both these aspects of him, then the New Testament becomes nothing more than a comic book.
With a hero of immeasurable powers, but who gets into trouble because of his enemies.
And we are not comic-book characters. We can read the comics but they are just fantasy.
And we don’t believe fantasy. We certainly don’t believe in fantasy.
Jesus is not fantasy.
He was enfleshed.
And he cried.
When we actually allow ourselves to see this, then we can truly relate to Jesus during those times when we bleed and cry.
We can really understand what carrying a cross is all about. We can recognize our missteps. Our dropping of our load. Our needing someone else to help us with it for a while.
To me, Jesus brings into this world two most sublimely magnificent things: innocence and forgiveness.
And the divine.
Without seeing the true humanity of Jesus, we cannot truly understand forgiveness.
We cannot truly see what we did to Jesus.
On the cross.