But in his physical presence—his descent from the boat and into the crowd, his concern for their ailments and their aimlessness, and his healing and teaching, shows not only nature as God, but also his nature as a human being. In early Christian thought, and in some ways today, Jesus was thought of almost a new type of Adam: that in Christ God recreated the original human, and so all of us who have fallen from that state of blessedness still recognize our human selves in him. Part of the importance of this story, though is that Jesus moves between two communities that don’t consider themselves as one, and yet reveals to them their unity as human beings: one in need, under the pain of toil and death, without direction, in desperation. One country Jewish, one Gentile, one united in faith and allegiance to its religious heritage, the other a loosely affiliated collection of cities of various beliefs, customs, but both filled with the same needs.
Not only was the fullness of God pleased to dwell in Jesus, but also the fullness of humanity. And Jesus recognizes the humanity of all he meets, particularly in its wreckage, in its destruction and frailty. And still Jesus bends to heal it. He does not heal it completely, but in healing he points to permeation of God coming to each person through his touch and speech and presence. Those whom Jesus heals today will die—the healing is temporary. They must wait, like we must wait, for our final healing at death, when the reward for following this shepherd is revealed to us. But we can see in Jesus the humanity that all people on earth can recognize, the recreation of what we were meant to be, not just the best of what we are, but exactly what God has intended us to be. We see in Jesus a reflection of ourselves, but with the truth of God’s intent made manifest.
It’s hard to see that in ourselves, because, truth be told, we are marred creatures. That perfect image of God we see reflected in the humanity of Jesus we do not see reflected in ourselves. We see it, as Paul says, as if we look in a dark mirror. Perhaps we can make things out, but the glory of the picture is only evident in Christ. Yet Christ chooses to give us that glory, and bids us give that glory to others.
We love to build walls between ourselves, like the Berlin Wall, the fence across portions of our southern border, the fence in Jerusalem that helps keep both terrorists and economic prosperity for Palestinians at bay. We build walls of metaphor, too, like the Iron Curtain, what we called the edge of the Soviet control, the hem, as it were, of the garment of the Soviet Union, and the Steel Curtain, the starting four defensive lineman for those great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the seventies. And yet, in Christ, we see that the dividing wall between the peoples has been torn down: today, Jesus congregates with two sorts of people, in ways that were perhaps uncomfortable, not because they were different groups, but because in Christ these two separate groups become one. I think, even today, when we have made such progress, that we cannot overestimate the importance of that, especially as our culture valorizes individual identity and cultural identity over and against our identity as a member of a species. Christ calls forth the humanity in us, and helps us understand our participation, simply by existing, in a wonderful human family.
On Friday, God help me, I went to Brooklyn. And to make matters worse, I went to DUMBO, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge. I was right by a coworking space that specializes in being environmentally friendly, and a couple blocks away from a bar that sold artisanal West Coast beer. I was disappointed to discover these are my kind of people, and I have to say, if DUMBO is any indication we are disgusting. But my friend Ben had invited me to this outdoor arcade game night, which only could happen in a city like New York. And I must say, I looked around and I saw people of every color under the sun, from what I guessed was mostly Brooklyn, a borough that like most boroughs in New York, have residents from all over the world. Who knows how broad the spectrum of humanity there was? I’ll say there was a demographic or two missing: the disabled and the elderly, for instance. But to see around was to see the face of humanity—and since we were playing silly games, that face was a joyful face, even in losing.
But it reminded me, also, that Friday was also the day the church has set aside to celebrate Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish priest and missionary, who lived during the time of Luther, and was one of the first people to advocate for universal human rights. He came to this conclusion awkwardly: he was by every definition a colonizer of the New World, and repented of his position only after he saw the cruelty done to the native peoples. To relieve their suffering, he came up with the idea of bringing African slaves to fill their role in the terrorizing economy the conquerors had developed. But later he repented of that view, too, and spent the remainder of his life fighting for the recognition of full humanity in all peoples, and against the abuse of the colonizers against slaves and native peoples.
When I looked around in DUMBO, I knew that some of the people were there because of Las Casas, who advocated for the importation of Africans. But I also knew we were together because of people like Las Casas, who were able to break through their own prejudices and see all people as deserving of respect and love. And I know I want to be the kind of Christian who recognizes his own participation in injustice and repents from it, and works for a greater understanding of life.
The person of Christ calls forth humanity from us, and in his presence, we become more than who we are. And as we follow his call, we find the humanity in others, too. Christ heals and teaches us, and in compassion restores us. Thanks. Amen.