If Jesus is God, isn’t his humanity a form of play-acting?

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Sooner or later, religious seekers ask this question. Being divine does seem to give Jesus a celestial advantage that puts him in a whole different category from the rest of us. In fact, our creed confirms his distinctness. Jesus is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father.” These statements are variant ways of saying Jesus shares the essence of the one he calls Father, who is the source of life and all that is.

Does this mean the sinless life and brutal death of Jesus is, in reality, a mirage? It seems contradictory to claim, as Christians do, that Jesus is truly God and truly human. One cancels out the other, since God is eternal, while mortals suffer and die. Divinity enjoys special super-natural powers over creation, whereas humans are subject to the laws of space and time and endure significant limitations.

One way to reconcile these opposing natures is through the concept of kenosis, or self-emptying. Saint Paul is the first to take this approach in the Hymn to Christ quoted in the letter to the Philippians. It’s unclear if Paul wrote this hymn or simply refers to it. But it describes how Jesus, who’s in the form of God, chooses not to cling to his privilege. Instead, Jesus empties himself of favored status and commits to the human condition. He doesn’t cease to be divine, but he elects to embrace mortal existence.

Consider a missionary from the U.S. who chooses to go live in the developing world. She may spend the rest of her life, privileged education, and talent in bringing her advantages to a community that can’t even dream of them. While the missionary never ceases to be a person of privilege who could easily make a phone call and be swooped away from human misery, she elects not to make that call. Such a person may well be martyred in her chosen land, subject to the same dangerous forces that claim the lives of those with whom she has cast her lot.

Is the missionary’s sacrificial life a mirage? Is her violent death mere play-acting? When Jesus chooses to be incarnate in our humanity, the stakes are real. Kenosis is the kind of self-emptying we can all make, of whatever privileged status we enjoy, for the sake of others.

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-27; 3:5-6; Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Matthew 26:39; John 1:1-5, 14; 10:17-18; 17:5; Romans 8:3-13; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:4-7; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:16-18; 5:8-10; 12:2

Books: Jesus Our Brother: The Humanity of the Lord, by Wilfred Harrington, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2010); The Disciples’ Jesus by Terrence Tilley (Orbis Books, 2008)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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