By: Carla McKenzie

Central to the Christian faith is something that many find very hard to believe: the mystery of the Incarnation. The improbable belief that Jesus Christ is both human and divine; both person and God. Even for those of us who profess the faith, we still often struggle to really believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. Many of us show an unconscious bias towards one or the other (something like ‘Jesus was just God ‘pretending’ to be human’, or ‘Jesus was a really good person so we can say metaphorically he is kind of like God’). It’s not surprising that we struggle with this as I think it might just be beyond human comprehension to hold both of those aspects in mind at once: humanity and divinity. Hence; the Incarnation is a mystery – something to be experienced and meditated upon rather than rationally understood.

During Holy Week this year, I began to reflect anew on the human Jesus, and what is thus revealed of his divinity. Palm Sunday, in particular, was for me a time of a very human Jesus. On this day, one week before Easter Sunday, Christians around the world form processions, carrying palm leaves in remembrance of the palm-lined procession as Jesus entered Jerusalem all those years ago, for the final days of his life, in the humblest, almost laughable way: on the back of a donkey. This year I experienced this procession as an invitation to start a journey with the humble and human Jesus, one that marks the beginning of a week that would take him through so many of the most human emotions and experiences; fear, uncertainty, loneliness and abandonment by those closest to him. It is also a week that as many well know, culminates in the terrible suffering of the crucifixion and yet ultimately ends with the unspeakable joy of the resurrection. Thus, on Palm Sunday, we enter into the journey of Holy Week with a sense of all-too-human fear at the pain to come and yet with a deep, even Divine, hope at the joy to follow. Sensing this invitation to journey with Jesus, I try to say yes.

 

 

My own fragile humanity

And herein at the outset, my fragile humanity is laid bare: alongside God in human form I am invited to trust – though I know I will be afraid. I am invited to hope – though I know amidst what I experience, I will despair. I am invited to walk alongside, and in the presence of, love – yet I know at some point I will grow disinterested or distant, push away, close myself off. I am invited to choose a path of openness to God, with all the uncertainty that brings. Yet I know that, somewhere along the line, I will lose faith. These are my human frailties.

I am invited to do so, all alongside the One who takes human form and so comes alongside me in all my frailty, so as to show me that I am known intimately and loved exactly as I am. The ‘One who Is’ comes walking in feet covered in shoes like mine, breathing through lungs like mine, riding on a donkey, following a path that seemed absurd. The One who, despite his human fear and uncertainty, journeys on nonetheless: always trusting- never succumbing to fear, always hoping- never despairing, always loving- never closing off. Always open – never losing faith.

 

Human, to accompany us in our weakness

I believe that in this is revealed that God comes in human form in order to accompany us, exactly as we are, in all our human fragility.

There is a significance to the fact that God comes to be amongst us in the most mundane of human circumstances. Born a vulnerable baby, growing up in relative poverty and obscurity, spending a period as a refugee, riding a donkey into Jerusalem and then dying, innocent, a cruel and unremarkable criminal’s death. These humble life circumstances illustrate how in our humanity at it’s ‘weakest’ is where we will encounter God.

God comes to us not how we might have imagined it. Not in a display of power and pomp, the great ‘king’ and liberator that people of the time had been expecting, but rather in the most humble of ways. In taking such unremarkable human form, I believe God begins a process of entering into broken humanity, starting from the weakest and most peripheral places, and redeeming it. Starting a process that we are invited to continue. It is a process of reminding us how every part, every fragment, every expression of what it is to be human, is part of an inexplicably beautiful whole and each part is to be redeemed – to blossom into its fullest value.

The knowledge of this is what sets us free to live unafraid of our human weakness, unafraid of one another, and unafraid of God.

 

Divinity flowing from our humanity

This leads us to another lesson inherent in the mystery of the Incarnation (God in human form); that as we become more human, so we become more divine.

We are like wells connected to a groundwater supply, as we drop deeper into ourselves, so we hit the source. As we enter more deeply into our own particular experience of being human, so we become better able to understand the humanity of others and become closer to God: the water of life.

And so we need not despair or give up even when we feel our inadequacies acutely. Nor do we need to deny our humanity so that we become more ‘holy,’ more like God. Rather, I think, it is in more deeply and honestly grappling with our humanity that we encounter the divine, for the two are somehow inextricably linked. This is revealed to us in the person of Christ, in the Incarnation. And as we journey with him from Palm Sunday through Holy Week, Jesus shows us that our strength is to be found in the honest acceptance of our human frailty, for it is here that we encounter God.

 


Profile CarlaAbout the Author

Carla Mckenzie

I am an adult convert to Catholicism, which happened much to my own surprise and that of those around me. I live in a vibrant catholic student community and am studying medicine, which occupies much of my time and thoughts. The rest I spend balancing my desire to read the omnipresent pile of books next to my bed and spending time with family and friends, being outdoors: hiking and surfing.  I love the church most for its misfit mystics and eccentric saints, and for being able to follow Pope Francis on Twitter.