Familiarity with Human Nature

In the first reading at Holy Mass Sunday, we hear the Lord say to the prophet, “Behold, I am sending you to a rebellious house. They and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.”

Hard of face and obstinate of heart. That’s us, the human race.

Lord Jesus came to His native place, among His kith and kin. And the people said, “Who does he think he is? Homeboy has gotten too big for his britches!”

Big MacLet’s pause and take a look at the ceaselessly amusing thing called “human nature.”

Human nature involves: Bad breath, shaving nicks, stubbornness, going to the bathroom (both #1 and #2), snoring, cavities, forgetting stuff, sneezing and nose-blowing, chewing, earwax, singing off-key, foot fungus, armpits, nose hair, etc.

Lots of unflattering aspects, all-too-familiar. Can we doubt that even the Lord Jesus Christ, after sweating in the sun all day, might have exuded an aroma that some people found unpleasant?

The reality of human nature impinges itself upon us constantly. We reckon with it at every step of our life. We must reckon with it, in fact. Few pathologies prove more dangerous to our health and well-being, after all, than the delusion that the limits of human nature don’t apply to me. “I don’t need to eat or rest. I’m like Superman.” Next thing you know: back spasms, ulcers, facial tics, binge drinking, or worse. The wise among us, therefore, stay intimately familiar with the foibles of being human–and accept the limits which those foibles impose.

This very intimacy with the humble dimensions of human nature, though, can get in the way of the most important thing a human person can do. The most important thing we can do is: Believe. And not just believe in something vague. No. The most important thing a human being can do is believe in the incarnation. Believe that Jesus, the man, is God.

The Nazarenes could not do it, because of over-familiarity. Maybe our Lord’s b.o. smelled too much like their own.

The Nazarenes knew, like we do, that they were no angels. Angels, after all, don’t eat cheeseburgers. They never use mustard or pickle relish, under any circumstances. Angels have far-more-exalted things to do than chew on the flesh of cows, pigs, or chickens. The purely spiritual occupations of the angels, in fact, probably strike us as more beautiful than many of our pastimes—like burping contests, for instance.

king kongBut God took human nature to Himself Personally. At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, I once had a very brief disagreement with a loud man in a yarmulke. He saw my Roman collar and yelled at me, “God is not a man!” “Forgive me, friend,” I replied, “but you’re wrong there. He is.”

Did our Lord Jesus ever have a bout of hiccups? Don’t know. But He could have. What we do know for sure is that he ate and drank, digested, etc. That some people liked Him, and some people didn’t. That He loved, wept, got angry. And that He died.

God united human nature—the lumpy, often inconvenient reality that we deal with all the time—He united it to Himself. He became as Personally familiar with it as all the rest of us are.

And, if we want to honor Almighty God as He deserves to be honored, we cannot let our own homey familiarity with our foibles as human beings get in the way of our believing in this mystery. Because: His very uniting Himself to our nature—this Incarnation that God has achieved: Not only does it not demean the inconceivable dignity of the Uncreated, Omnipotent Wisdom; not only does His having taken our nature to Himself not lower Him as a Being—to the contrary, like nothing else, it reveals just how genuinely majestic He truly is.

It is precisely because God reigns with such pure, untouchable, otherworldly transcendence that He can unite Himself to our stock, and disturb nothing by doing so. His Incarnation has not changed human nature into something else; God becoming man has not frazzled human nature, or subsumed it. Forgive the imperfect analogy, but it’s like the overwhelming power of King Kong, who had the strength to hold Ann Darrow in the palm of his hand, without hurting her. God has taken our nature, which is prone to farting, to Himself, in order to reveal the true glory for which we were created. Only someone so superior as God could do this: Lift the little fusty-looking creature from the earth, intact, up to the light that makes the creature appear truly beautiful.

If this sounds abstract, just gaze at the crucifix, and I will explain what I am trying to say.

El Greco crucifixion Cristo sulla croce

Here is the utter ugliness of everything that is shameful about human nature. Cruelty. Weakness of our flesh. And the ultimate reality of our race: death. All right here, as ugly as ugly can be.

Except: it’s beautiful. A crucifix is not ugly. A crucifix is beautiful.

The mystery of the Incarnation is not something abstract at all. It is simply this: the beauty of Christ crucified. Our crucifixes are beautiful because God is all-powerful. Powerful enough that, out of love, He united Himself with the race that has cookouts.

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