I think we focus on Jesus’ divinity so much, we fail to notice that his human side did trip him up occasionally. If we keep in mind these few instances when he acted out of his humanity, I think we will truly grasp why he is so available to us and so understanding of the challenges we face in this world. He can walk with us through all our challenges and joys, because he shared them. Overwhelmingly, of course, we remember the healings, the sum total of his teachings, the powerful attraction of his love particularly for the poor and disenfranchised of his day, his relationship with the Father, the Transfiguration and his resurrection and ascension into heaven.
But just for a little while today let’s remember that he suffered as we do, he was blind to the needs of the Canaanite woman, he flinched at his coming death, he got tired of the crowds and went off to pray.
But let’s look at two of these incidents when Jesus was most fully human.
The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is in Matthew chapter 15:21-28. Just before this story Jesus was tested by some Pharisees and teachers of the law from Jerusalem. He had upset the Pharisees by saying that “you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” Then he had to explain what he meant to the disciples: that nothing can defile you except what comes out of your mouth from your heart, never from not washing your hands. [v. 10-20] He was explaining the difference between the letter of the law, following the rules, and the spirit of the law which is love. He was calling them to an integrated life where the inner man or woman was to be the same as the outer.
Jesus and his companions then moved on to the region of Tyre and Sidon where a Canaanite woman cried out to him to please heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon.[v. 21-28] At first Jesus ignored her. Then the disciples asked him to send her away because she was pestering them to get his attention. So Jesus said to her that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Again she asked his help. Then he told her that it would be like giving the children’s bread to the dogs[a racial slur of the time]. And she replied, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” And finally, Jesus commended her great faith and healed her daughter immediately.
So often in the telling of this story the emphasis is on her faith, but there is also the back story of Jesus probably tired after being tested by the Pharisees and others. For quite a while he ignored her, then argued with her request. And finally, he gave her what she wanted. The Jews and the Canaanites were ancient enemies probably going back to when the Israelites crossed the Jordan after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and took over Canaan.
Jesus is displaying here a very human tendency to not see an enemy as a real person or as a neighbor. Tired and tested it took him a while to see the truth of the person before him. And when he did, he healed her daughter; when he recalled what he was really about, he was available to her.
The other place where we see Jesus as a fellow human being is in Gethsemane and on the cross in the last few days of his life. As he wrestles alone in the garden that night with the death he knows is coming, he goes back and forth in his prayers to God, “Take this cup from me” to “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”[Matthew 26:36-45] Three times he prayed these words. In between the prayers he went to see if the disciples were still with him, but they kept falling asleep. Can you hear the disappointment and maybe the weariness in his voice as he calls to Simon: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?”
This man Jesus who can see his fate with both his human and divine eyes falters a bit before his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, no doubt flinching at the pain and degradation to come. Then on the cross, sometime before his death he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[Matthew 27:46] Bereft, jeered, dying, in pain, alone—he cries out of a sense of abandonment as darkness comes over the land. And at 3 o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[ When he had said this, he breathed his last breath.[Luke 23:46]
So on the cross, unhappy with his fate, as in Gethsemane, Jesus cried out his despair and then commended his spirit to God. He went back and forth between hating the pain and embracing God’s will for him. So very human, don’t you think?
I don’t in any way want to demean Jesus or the words he spoke or his teetering between a human reaction and a divine one. To me they speak of a man who is the Son of God who for a while couldn’t hear the Canaanite woman and who struggled with his impending death. I take heart from these very human actions, because I know that Jesus can understand me and you and every human being there ever was. And I am ever so sorry that he had to suffer this fate in order to identify with us so clearly.
One of the amazing things we learn about God is that he stands with us in our pain and suffering. He knows when we need shoring up and when we need to be challenged. He holds us through the tough parts of our lives, because he knows what it is like to live through them. If we’re aware of God at all, we can sense his presence with us in the tough times; we may be bereft and down and out and yet there he is, too, walking the same steps with us, helping us carry the heavy load.
It is his presence in our suffering more than anything else that paves the way in us for love to transform us into people who can love, who can experience joy and peace and patience. Who can react with gentleness, goodness and kindness. Who can choose to set aside our own needs in favor of meeting another’s. Who can be faithful. It’s because we have experienced the fruit of the Spirit offered to us in his presence that we become gifted with that same fruit to offer back to the world. Thanks be to God!
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I feel Christ’s presence with me as I tackle the challenges I face? Am I aware of his presence throughout my day? Do I lean on his strength and solace in my suffering? How identified am I with his suffering?
Blessing for the week: May we be so attuned with the mind of Christ that we feel reassured by his promises. That we can live through anything in his presence, knowing that he suffered as we do. May we be aware of all the blessings and grace that Christ showers us with daily.
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