The Vulnerability of Jesus
Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. IT takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.
The words leapt off the page –
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
We were sitting next to several monks in the sanctuary of a Benedictine Monastery. Each of the monks, dressed in their black robes and long gray beards, were chanting psalms and songs, trying to give voice to the emotions running through their hearts and minds. It was Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday, in the Christian tradition), the day that commemorates the final night of Jesus’ life and the last supper he shared with his friends and disciples.
At first, we didn’t pay much attention to the words because they are words we had read and heard hundreds of times before. But for some reason, on this particular evening, we were drawn to them:
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
Words expressed by Jesus on the acute knowledge that within hours he was going to die, violently, humiliatingly, utterly painfully.
Wait! Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow”?! It can’t be!
Jesus shouldn’t be expressing the fact that he felt overwhelmed with sorrow by his circumstances.
Or should he?
So much of our church experience has taught us that Jesus was some sort of superhuman, extraordinary, miraculous being. All that would be true. But what is so often taught ignores the very real fact that he was human. There is virtually nothing said about that humanness. How often do we hear about him expressing raw human emotion? How about him laughing, or grieving or crying? What about him feeling tired, or being hungry or having to “use the bathroom”?
After all, he is God, right?
But that’s not what the texts say (Matthew 26:38 and Mark 14:34). They texts say that he was OVERWHELMED WITH SORROW!
It is now two weeks later and it’s still hard to comprehend what we read and heard that night. We both have a book of quotes by Fred (Mr.) Rogers – The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember. In the introduction, Fred’s wife Joanne wrote this about him:
It was not all fun and games for Fred—he had his struggles, too, as we all did. I remember his moaning and groaning to us, “I just know I’m going to fail this course!” Of course, we’d all get worried for him. Then he’d get an A—and we’d all get mad at him…It took courage and a lot of support when he faced the cameras for the first Neighborhood programs. Someone once asked which one of his puppets resembled him the most. It was, of course, Daniel Striped Tiger—an uncharacteristically shy tiger. Despite Fred’s tendency to shyness, that trait never got in the way of his capacity to make many friends, to whom he readily lent an empathetic ear. Fred was always a good listener for as long as I knew him…When we were together, he was able to show his lighter side—perhaps I even enabled it sometimes, as did several of his friends who had “the gift of whimsy”. He could laugh heartily and with much pleasure at pure silliness, and was, at times, the funniest person I have known. …When I think of the entire persona of Fred Rogers, my inclination is to put him on a very high pedestal, despite the fragilities that are part of being human.
In the last few years, we have been even more drawn to the humanity of Jesus and to so many others who express the fullness of human emotion – with its rawness and vulnerability – not despite their humanness, but because of it. We are continuing to learn that our humanness is what makes us unique, it’s what makes us free, it’s what makes us as Fred Rogers, who studied to be a pastor and whose ministry was his long-running TV show, always said – ‘special’.
One of the messages that we constantly convey to people is that expressing human emotion is what makes us normal. We try to convey that it is not weak to say that we are scared, to indicate that we are uncertain, to be open about our insecurities. We remind others that we have been created to share with one another – our joys and our sorrows, our laughter and our tears, our success and our struggles. When we are only willing to open up about what is “right” with our lives, what is going well, and not able to share when we feel sad or lonely or “less than good enough”, we deny ourselves the healing and support we all need.
We believe, very strongly, that looking more closely at the times and situations in which Jesus was portrayed as being fully human – when he wept, when he was tired and needed to rest or be alone, when he was afraid, when he despaired, when he cried our in agony, when he expressed the need for companionship and friends and when he hurt as his friends abandoned him – is essential. We believe that it is essential because in seeing him in his humanness, we can understand better our humanness. And in understanding our humanness, we can begin to have more grace and understanding about ourselves and one another. It enables us to see one another as less alone in our struggles, as having so much more in common than we have previously known, as being on this journey – with all its wonder, with all its challenges – together.
Jesus’ vulnerability is a model for us. His humanity serves as a guide for ours. And as we share time with so many others who open up to us about their own humanity, we learn increasingly more about how vital it is to be vulnerable with those who provide safety and grace for us.