Human Spirit and Jesus

Evil Spirit aims at attacking and destroying the humanness of each human being. This humanness is neither a physical nor a psychophysical condition. It is a spiritual capacity possessed by each man and woman and child.

Only because of this capacity in spirit are we able to believe in God and to attain unending happiness in our after-death condition. Only because of this capacity can we perceive beauty and truth in this human universe. And, perceiving it thus, we may reproduce it in our actions and our products. Diabolic possession negates this capacity.

The reason we have this capacity of spirit is Jesus of Nazareth. As a man, he lived for not more than 50 years, as close as we can calculate. But all of his achievements were his as God made man. Hence those achievements are timeless and affect those at the very beginnings of our species as well as all other humans until time ends. Every man and woman in all time, every human ever conceived had, has, and will have this capacity of spirit made possible by Jesus. All, therefore, are capable of humanness.

We know of this humanness only from the mortal life of Jesus. As our own lives proceed, we know only that by ourselves we become increasingly helpless in every way, that our human love which we desire so much seems to become vain and weak; and that all of us, with all our aspirations and hopes, must end in the silent darkness and the numbing secret of death. Jesus overcame the helplessness. He accepted human love. He died successfully. On this triad of helplessness, love, and death all humanness depends.

Jesus’ experience of each one, and how he responded to the challenges of each-here is the central mystery of Jesus-made it possible for every other human being to respond successfully when faced with the same challenging experiences in the trial and development of individual humanness. Such was the means by which God from the beginning provided that mere creatures, tied to their physical bodies, might overcome their all too obvious limitations of time and physicality, and share, each one, in supernatural life. As with Jesus, it requires not only the desire, but the participation, the life action, the choice-in short, the will-of each.

Without any doubt Jesus spent his entire life attaining the perfection of his humanness. But in the historical records about him we find the ultimate steps in Jesus’ achievement of humanness were crowded into a period of weeks prior to his execution. Because of variations between the different written records, we have to take the crucial period to be about four weeks in length, although it may well have been that all those steps were concluded within the last week of his life.
Nowhere is Jesus’ victory over helplessness more clear or vivid than in the raising of his friend, Lazarus, from the dead.

Throughout his life as described in the records, Jesus displayed a constant mastery over people, events, and things. There was never any faltering or hesitation in his actions. He acted in his own name with an authority that never reeked of authoritarianism or arrogance, but at the same time brooked no refusal. “Amen! Amen! I say to you.” All was decisive. He gave commands to men and women, to evil spirits, to friends, to enemies, to the elements. In confrontation with private people or public authorities, it was always the same behavior: he acknowledged no one as superior to himself, praised and blamed and condemned as he saw fit, never withdrew before any other man as his master or as greater than himself.
Whenever he worked miracles or ordered something done, his instructions and dictates were clear, concise, supremely confident, and direct: “Go out from this man.”

“Be clean!” “Arise and walk!” “Go show yourself to the priests!” “Be cured!” “Stand up and walk!” “Hear!” It was only at the raising of Lazarus from the dead that Jesus exhibited a dependency, a lingering hesitation, a doubt-and that he acknowledged his helplessness.

It is evident from the Gospel that at the tomb of Lazarus Jesus experienced a flood of helplessness. In fact, his behavior from the time Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha and Mary, sent for him was so uncharacteristic as to be called indecisive. It was as if he were passing through a waiting time, a period of unknowing and apprehension we humans call doubt. First of all, he stated plainly that “the end of Lazarus’ sickness is not death.” Then, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping. But I shall go and wake him up.” Finally: “Lazarus is dead.” He delayed his departure for two days. Then he spent two more days traveling.

When Jesus arrived at Bethania, where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary had their estates, Lazarus had been buried. From the moment of his arrival Jesus’ behavior was peculiar and unwonted. When he met the weeping sisters, he was distressed, sighed, and wept openly. At the tomb itself he publicly stated his personal trust in and dependence on God-apparently a newly felt need of his at that moment.

Looking up at the skies, he said in a loud voice: “Father! I thank you for listening to my request. I myself know that you always listen to me. But I am speaking for the sake of the people standing around here, so that they may come to believe you sent me.”

We ,can only imagine, and by comparison with our own lot, the trouble Jesus suffered. He who never hesitated, hesitated. He who personally commanded in his own name had to wait for approval before commanding. In the previous years of Jesus’ life there may have been other such moments. But this experience at the tomb of Lazarus is the only one recorded in which Jesus’ exercise of divine power within the human order was accomplished only after a short but intense experience of helplessness.

Without diminution of his divinity, and only so that his humanness would be achieved, Jesus was offered in this raising of Lazarus the human ridge of fears and probabilities. He had the same alternatives in that moment that all of us have at certain crucial moments throughout our lives. One alternative says: “Stay with your fears. With the probabilities. With your impotencies. Accept them. That’s the way it is. That’s life.” Another alternative says: “Declare yourself helpless and incapable, and ask for help to transcend all your helplessness and impotencies. Say: ‘I am helpless. Help me! Unsure as I am, help me to be sure!’”

The second key element in the fullness of humanness achieved by Jesus, and so guaranteed as a capacity in each of us if we choose, is human love: its acceptance, its felt sweetness, its celebration, the giving of it.

At first glance it would seem that there is no one who cannot love humanly, that it is “second nature” to do so. Yet experience has always told men and women that it is as hard to love as to be loved. For human love is never a matter of logical concepts or data matching. It implies no use of purposiveness. It is never a managed process of quid pro quo. Those who love each other, in the exercise of their love are enveloped in a transcendental atmosphere where they remain distinct, but no emphasis is laid upon one individual over another.

Richard/Rita’s exorcist, Father Gerald, had learned one shining truth about human love through his ordeal with the evil spirit whose method of dehumanization was debasement of love itself. In the long conversation with him as we strolled in his garden some months before he died, Gerald sketched for me his realization that our need for sexuality in love is a result of our not possessing God-love itself; and that sexuality is valid humanly and ennobling only as a striving for and expression of the love we can achieve.

Our difficulty is that we cannot imagine a close and personal love between man and woman that is not sexually based and ultimately sexually expressed. But this is a limitation of our outlook, not a deficiency in Jesus.

Jesus, being God, did not need the vehicle of sexuality, nor did those who loved him. Yet who can doubt the tactile and warm love of that Mary who poured a “pound of pure spikenard perfume” over his feet and then dried them with her long hair? Her very gesture implied a tender affection for Jesus, together with a trusting presumption that what she did he understood, accepted, and, in his own way, reciprocated. Full of the power that love confers, she held captive the guests gathered around with the solemnity of love expressed, as surely as the breath of that perfume filled “the whole house,” as the Gospel tells us.
This is the only recorded occasion when Jesus was proffered the beauty and intimate sweetness of human love by a woman, and Jesus insisted it be his. “Leave her alone!” he said to the grumbling Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew that human beauty and love was its own sanctification, because they were tangible blessings given only by God.

And he therefore insisted that they be received-uncovered except with their own inherent grace.

The Gospels make it clear that during the last days, when Jesus was waiting for the Passover feast, he was frequently near the Bethania family of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. It is left to our imagination to portray his hours of companionship with this family, the happiness of being with friends and the object of their love, the gentle, probing conversations they carried on between them, the nearness, the warmth, the celebration of their unity in heart, and the sweetness of total acceptance.

In tasting such love, so Christianity teaches, Jesus made that love possible for each of us. Humanly. If we choose.
It is central to Christian understanding of the fullness of humanness achieved by Jesus that when, earlier, he overcame his human helplessness, and when he accepted human love, he was preparing his soul for his victory, not over mere dying, but over death.

For the victory over helplessness was only possible by trust, by relying on the power of God, by resting his hopes on something outside his human ambit. And the consent to love and be loved was made possible only because he recognized and accepted God’s guarantee that all human love-despite its pathos and weakness-could be made eternal and divine.

In other words, to be humanly victorious in all three of these circumstances, Jesus relied on the more than human, and on what no human agency could tell him or effect for him.

For Jesus, as for us, dying was the ultimate and only surety. He himself did not escape dying. Nor has he made it possible for any other human being, even his own mother, to escape dying.

Jesus’ experience of dying was colored by two opposites. On the one hand, his natural shrinking from dying and death as the summary evil, as that which ended his human integrity. On the other hand, his devotion to the purpose of his whole life, which could be accomplished only by dying.

In some mysterious way, Jesus was made to undergo the same agonizing natural fear of death that all humans have. Still at a distance from the hour of his death, the thought of dying made Jesus sad, almost querulous. “One of you is going to betray
me,” he revealed to his followers at their intimate supper. “Could you not stay awake this one hour with me?” he complained to his three companions who had dozed off. “Let this trial pass me by,” he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane as he writhed and sweated on the ground in sheer apprehension and loathing for his dying.

Whenever he confronted Judas, his captors, Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, the Good Thief, the Women of Jerusalem, Peter, his mother, he was in command. His awareness was clear. His mission was firm.

It was only the black hand of death and the merciless coils of dying that frightened him. For he had to accomplish his mission in his identity as a man in order to break beyond the bonds of mere humanity. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” This was no questioning complaint. It was merely a human exclamation at the sharp peak of his physical torture. For the first time, mists of numbness were blackening and dulling all his psychophysical acts. He could not see or hear very well anymore. His control of his imagination was slipping. His memory worked in quick snaps, then went blank.

Yet he passed through this dying and out of all physical existence, preserving his hope and trust: “Father! Into your hands I commend my spirit.” At that one moment all his psychic faculties-memory, imagination, feelings, sensations-were gathered into a hard ball of pain. He could not breathe anymore. His heart ached with effort, then stopped beating. His brain had no more blood. That quick dislocation we curtly name with an inert monosyllable, death, overtook him.

Jesus has not told us of the physical agony in that shuddering wrench, when he ceased to hear, see, and taste, and in a traumatic flash the human self he used to be was in a new dimension where all was clear, where there was no more doubt, where he could no longer be afflicted by material ills, and where his human soul existed in the undisturbable harmony of God. He had died. As all humans must. And he survived in spirit, as all humans may now do, because of Jesus’ dying and death.

As the first human being to undergo dying and death perfectly, Jesus had to rise from the dead. He had to live again as a human being. His bodily death and his living again in the body are two phases of one integral act. Hence, what Christians have always called his Resurrection implies not only living again; but also dying, and surviving that physical death.

Jesus’ message in the Resurrection accounts of the Gospels is clear: Do not simply accept that I survived death. For this is not a Christian idea. But it is: Believe I have transformed your dying and your death, making them a means of resurrection and ascension and an entrance into the Kingdom of God. For every man and woman.

This is why the witnesses to his Resurrection were not concerned with his bodily appearance or characteristics after death when he lived again, but with his person and his identity and his presence.

A real salvation from the pathos of being merely human, therefore, implies that not only does it become possible for us to live forever, but that we know and pursue this goal in a way that enables us to escape the confines of time and space. We must know with absolute surety. Such knowing is called belief.

Jesus effected that our act of believing give us knowledge of him and of our salvation; and, by that act of believing, we escape from the confines of our material world and of our own consciousness. And, after the first assent of belief, we have the quiet flow of certainty about each person as man, as woman, and about God as father, savior, and eternal joy.

Because Jesus completely fulfilled his humanness as regards helplessness, love, and dying, each one of us is capable of overcoming our helplessness; of achieving genuine love; and of living forever. This is the capacity Jesus won for us. It is a capacity that defines the largest outlines of what we experience as the potential humanness in each one of us. On this huge canvas are painted all the smaller details of what we may achieve in our individual humanness.

This capacity, our potential for humanness, puts all men and women into direct relationship with Jesus. It is not merely that our aspiring, our loving, and our dying is measured over against his. Nor that we receive from him parcels of strength, in order to be able to imitate him in these matters-much as we consciously or unconsciously imitate popular heroes, heroines, idols, and ideals, and so model our behavior on someone whom we esteem highly. Jesus does not help us merely in the same way as we assert from time to time that this or that great man or woman has helped us by their actions and their inspiring words.

The relationship is much more intimate. If our choice is to aspire, to love, and to die in the hope of living, then our aspiring and our loving and our dying in such a deathless hope is the aspiring and the loving and the dying Jesus performed so perfectly once for all time and for all humans. When we choose to achieve this humanness, then between our humanness and the humanness achieved by Jesus there is a paradigm of identity. Not a physical identity, but rather an assimilation in spirit. The limited capacity of each mortal becomes a minor and partial participation in the divine fullness and rich overflow of Jesus’ divine spirit. Each individual is destined to become a “Jesus self” in some degree or grade: to be a self with the humanness of Jesus.

It was this primordial function of Jesus that Paul of Tarsus summarized when he drew on the ancient Jewish myth of Adam as the “first man” and as “head of the human race” in physical generation and biological derivation. Paul called Jesus the “Second Adam” and the “head of all men and women” in the being of spirit. In the language of classical Christian piety and religion, each one becomes an alter Christus, another Jesus. They become part of that fullness of good in our human universe that God has foreseen and permitted.

In the Christian view, all of this is so because Jesus was God made man. All his human acts belonged to him as God. Their value and meaning shared in the eternity and total perfection of God. Jesus has a priority in that eternity that ensures his ever-presence and priority within all the changing time-space frames of our human history. As a mortal human being, he lived in one place at one time. Yet in humanness he was and is coexistent with and present to all human beings as the source and guarantee of whatever humanness each of us attains.

At the same time, Jesus was also a mortal man, a Jew who lived a certain number of years in and around Palestine; who had certain mortal limits of mind, culture, life experience. During his mortal lifetime Jesus could not achieve the full extent of humanness possible in billions of individual humans diversified by climate, language, culture, gender, and civilization. For this goal, God chose to need the participation of men and women.

In the Christian view, therefore, Jesus is the key to the fullness of our humanness, because he achieved that fullness for us potentially. It must be achieved actually in each man and woman, and can be achieved only by each one’s choice and personal actions in the reality of the good and the evil present and possible to us all, and whether or not we have ever even heard of Jesus.

And the key to the fullness of evil-that which negates and kills humanness and achieves the opposite of God’s plan-is Lucifer, the shining angel who chose freely to separate himself from God, but as God’s creature could not separate himself from the human universe.

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