January 6, 2016
One of my favorite materials for spiritual reading over the past few years was a gift from my wife: Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. James Martin, SJ. The book is part Bible study, part memoir from Fr. Martin’s Journey to the Holy Land, and does a wonderful job of emphasizing Jesus’ humanity in all its various manifestations.
Some aspects of Jesus’ Incarnation are more frequently discussed than others: It is moving to hear of Christ’s sadness at the loss of His friend Lazarus. It’s motivating to recognize the humility of God’s entrance into the world as a baby; His vulnerability and dependence on others is a helpful reminder for how we ought to live the Christian life. But other facets of our Savior’s humanity aren’t as popular for one reason or another.
For example, Jesus must have gotten sick from time to time. And our King of Kings grew up in a small town with somewhere around 200-400 inhabitants, and joined his father’s trade as a not-so-glamorous tektōn. (Carpenters or woodworkers were viewed to be on the low end of the class hierarchy, since they did not possess their own plot of land.) I find all of this historical and personal context fascinating; it gives a certain texture or another dimension to the incredible mystery that our God became a man that lived a fully human life.
I think another one of these ways that we’ve made Jesus a bit two-dimensional is by forgetting His capacity for playfulness. I’d like to explore a bit more about His jovial nature. His charisma. The times where he messed with disciples a little bit (and I mean this in the most reverent way possible, since God gave us our sense of humor to begin with).
Reading through the Gospels, Jesus can often be interpreted as a very serious person. While there is simply no question that He was embarking on the most important journey ever made (our Salvation), we can also forget to allow Jesus to have a personality. Fr. Martin says, “As a fully human person, Jesus felt the full range of human emotions. He could be, for example, joyful. That little children wanted to be near him shows a sunny personality (Generally speaking, children are not drawn to the morose)....He even seems to bestow nicknames on some of the disciples.” St. Peter’s “rocky” title may have been a comment on his stubborn personality as well as his steadfast faith. Likewise, many of the parables might have elicited hearty laugh from the crowd: “HA! Who would be so ridiculous as to build their house on sand?”
Now picture Jesus casually walking up to the men heading to Emmaus. “Hey guys, whatcha talking about?” How could that be anything but playful?
I write this reflection on Christ’s personality because it break open a part of my spiritual heart that had been lacking, or at least dormant: a real friendship with Jesus Christ. Having a fuller understanding of Jesus' humanity, even if it can't be proven, has led to many grace-filled reflections on the immeasurable value of God-become-man.
“I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15)
Praised be Jesus Christ.