It’s a curious thing if you’re Christian and believe that Jesus was born as both God and man in the same body. That’s a paradox that’s hard to explain, almost as tricky as wrapping our minds around the mechanics of the Holy Trinity. And yet, it carries such meaning in our faith.
The Incarnation (literally “to be made flesh”) is an indisputable truth in the Gospels. Jesus is born in our midst, and he’s born as one of us lowly mortals. Born in a manger, no less, since there’s no room at the inn. And he know he bleeds, suffers, and dies like us because he did all that on a cross. He cried out his thirst and his fears for all the world to see, and still we worship him as the Son of God. Jesus suffers like any human being would.
But why? If he’s God, then why put on all that for us? Why not come down in a cloud from heaven, with angels blowing trumpets and flaming sword in hand, ready to lay waste to the empires of sinners and gluttons alike?
I think there’s a tension in the Gospels that speaks to this mystery. A tension between the flesh and the spirit.
Look at every person who attacks or impedes Christ in the Gospels. Satan tempts him in the wilderness with rocks becoming bread and endless riches. The Pharisees allow money-changers and merchants into the Temple in Jerusalem, and they love the signs of their status among the people. Rich men leave in sorrow because Jesus tells them to give up their possessions. Even Peter, when he tries to warn his teacher from falling into the Pharisees’ trap, is branded “Satan” for trying to stop the divine plan of redemption.
What do they all have in common? They see only the material goods of the world, be it riches, power, or security with the local authorities.
And to whom does Jesus show his blessings? To the poor and the outcast. To those who have nothing to their name, but who are rich in faith. Even a Roman centurion does not need to see a miracle with his own eyes, and his faith is deemed greater than any to be found in Israel.
Jesus preaches the Word of God in opposition to the spoils of the world, shaking kings and priests with humble kindness. Even dying on a cross, alone and humiliated, Christ overcomes weak flesh and the power of sin by rising from the dead. He returns to the world in flesh made one with the spirit, and he makes a promise that God will do the same for all who believe.
When Jesus suffers the pangs of the flesh, he’s not mocking us. He’s saying, “I know. I’ve been there. Every fear, every pain, and every desire. I’ve felt it, too.”
And I wonder, as we sit and debate over, say, whether or not trans people have a right to exist with dignity, if perhaps we can’t learn something from the way Christ overcame his own flesh with his Passion and Resurrection. His body appeared the same, but it was something new. He wore the same wounds from his Crucifixion to appease Thomas’s doubts, but he was something more when he rose from the dead, wasn’t he? He could appear anywhere, even in a locked room of terrified disciples. He ascended into heaven, no longer touched by death or injury.
There’s a great comfort in knowing that our frail and ever-changing bodies, subject to so many conflicting pleasures, vices, and pains, are not the sole reward for our existence. It’s Christ’s comforting message that challenges the world and reassures us that the Spirit is always there for us, emanating from God the Father. Only when we align our flesh to the spirit do we truly thrive.
On that note, I leave you with this bit of wisdom from the Gospel.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3).