Last week, I realized once again why I don’t watch daytime TV. All of us had just finished a run of the stomach flu that the kids brought home from school, like the little Petri dishes that they are. The kids were finally better enough to get back to class but Shi and I were still down, too tired to do much of anything but be miserable on the couch and watch daytime TV. We were watching some millionaire dollar-dating club something like that, were you had these two wealthy people trying to get set up for a date. Every person that they brought in for them to pick from tried to outdo the other: I’m prettier, I’m taller, I’m shinier, I make more money, I’m more fun, I’m a Mensa genius, oh yeah, my biceps are bigger than your brain, and so it went, each one trying to top the other. So, the two people ended up picking the people who stood out the most from the crowd and went on a date with them.
I don’t mean to be sacrilegious in any way when I say this next, but if Jesus was on that dating show with all of the other competitors all vying for a date, (again this is just hypothetical) I’m completely sure that Jesus would not have stood out from the crowd. He would have been just plain, old Jesus, hanging out, not trying to vie for a position or saying something like “look I can turn water into wine, how’s that for a party trick?” No, that wasn’t Jesus at all, he wouldn’t have stuck out in a crowd, He was only a man.
I know that we get caught up in the same kind of competitive fervor. Sometimes it manifests itself in the way we try to distinguish who we are apart from the crowd. We get bombarded with messages that tell us to just “be yourself,” but what they really mean is “be like this model” because they really stand out. And if we don’t stand out, if we feel like we are a “plain old Jane or John” and somehow our worth is diminished by that. It’s hard not to feel that in big or small ways when celebrity status is something that is all around us and people are judged by how shiny they are.
Maybe all of this is simply an effort to grab a chance at fleeting immortality, to be more than a man or a woman, like the Pharaohs of old that sacrificed vast amounts of human life creating pyramids and monuments for their names to be remembered only for most of their names to be lost to history and all of their monuments returning to the dust. Because no matter how shiny someone is or how big a monument they have, from what is considered the greatest to the least of us, we are all still “only a man or only a woman,” as the generations go someday forgotten in the wind. All flesh is like the grass and the flower of the field that withers and dies when the seasons pass.
This, I think, is one of the places why many have such a hard time getting there head around Jesus Christ being the true incarnate son of God from eternity. He was not glamorous, he did not stand out like a king or emperor, he did not command vast armies and conquer the known world or commission slaves to build monuments in his honor. Jesus was only a man, a crucified Jew, a lonely itinerant preacher in, at that time, some backwater little country. This is not what we would expect the visitation from God to look like, but maybe that is because we have bought hook, line and sinker into that lie that a person’s worth is based upon how shiny they are. God must be the shiniest of all so he couldn’t have come on His day of visitation as some backwater, itinerant, crucified Jew, could he? But maybe then we haven’t grasped who God is.
The very core of who God is – is self-giving love: self-emptying, for the sake and benefit of others, sacrificial, self-giving love. For God to become incarnate, as a backwater itinerant Jew, a representative of all humanity, crucified with the weight of all of the world’s sin upon His shoulders, die our death, to be only a man, makes perfect sense because what greater expression of who God really is can there be? When we see the incarnate son of God upon the cross, the strongest thought we must have is, “this is the true meaning of who God is.” (NT Wright Paul the Prison Letters, 103) When you think of God think first of only a man upon a cross, start from there where God has revealed himself to us in Jesus and learn about who God is and not who we want to make God to be.
This truth brings great comfort to me, because maybe it is my own melancholy temperament or the fact that the Old Testament book of Lamentations is one of my favorite books, but I am acutely aware that I am only a man in a world of dust; only a breath on the wind. Knowing that God became only a man to redeem we who are only a man and only a woman, became one of us so we could become like Him, if God would do that He will not forget me. In becoming only a man God has brought great dignity to the dust of our existence, we are not forgotten in the dust of time but every single one of us are remembered and beloved. Such is the great and incomprehensible self-giving love that is our God. -0 matter my station or position in life, what should I do with my brief breath of existence in this world? How should I live my life? Should I spend my time in grasping for that moment of shininess that will always turn to dust? Paul answers this question for us in our Epistle reading today from Philippians 2:5-8.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
If we consider our knowing God first by knowing Jesus on the cross, we see this is the God who is most clearly known by abandoning all of His rights for the sake of His world. This is the “Mind of Christ,” which is also the Christian pattern of living. The life we are called to live then seems very clear, not one that seeks to exalt itself futilely by being more shiny than everyone else and still becoming dust in the end, but a life of self-giving love that carries the cross of Jesus, which is the love of the world, upon our shoulders.
To live gratefully and graciously as, only a man, only a woman just as wonderfully, Jesus became only a man.