God of Small Wounds
Jesus is perfect. Without sin. Fully human, but fully divine.
It’s a tough act to follow.
This idea is the bedrock of our faith but also the greatest barrier to practicing it. We are called to follow Christ, but that call feels doomed from the start because we don’t have the “fully divine” part to help us out. At least that’s how I thought about it for most of my life. I imagined Jesus’s divinity as a vaccine, inoculating him against temptation. It’s an image that matches how we see him portrayed most often - always smiling, slightly glowing, and casually rocking that impossibly white robe. That aura of effortless serenity illustrates a Jesus free not only from sin, but also from frustration, angst, stress, anxiety, self-doubt, discouragement, or any of the emotions so many of us struggle with on a daily basis.
So I’d like to propose a different view, one contrary to the “divinity vaccine” theory. Maybe Jesus’s divine nature didn’t operate on the front end, but on the back end. Instead of a shield against temptation, what if Christ’s divine nature were more like an artist’s finishing touch? Imagine an artist who, after hours or days with their nose inches away from the easel, steps back, their face and hands smeared with paint or clay or charcoal, and finds the one last adjustment to make so that the piece is perfect. Even though the piece itself achieves perfection, the artist gets dirty. The artist doubts. The artist agonizes and stresses.
In other words, it’s not that Jesus didn’t grapple with temptation, it’s that by the grace of his divine nature, he was able to make the right choice every time.
Doesn’t that sound exhausting?
Consider, for a moment, a decision you’ve struggled with between what you believed to be a “right” choice and a “wrong” - perhaps even “sinful” - choice. We don’t make such decisions quickly. We hem and haw over them. We doubt ourselves. We change our minds. We worry and stress. We rationalize and agonize.
What if Jesus experienced all these things, too, and what if he experienced them more intensely than we do because he couldn’t give in? Jesus couldn’t just take out his temper. Jesus couldn’t just pull up that website. Jesus couldn’t just have one more drink.
But what if he thought about it? What if he struggled the way we struggle - through frustration and anxiety and fear - but by the grace of his divinity managed to make the right choice time after time, demonstrating full faith God would take care of him over time?
In last Sunday’s Gospel, we see Jesus beginning his ministry, and it starts with one line: “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
That’s it. All it says is, “Jesus began.” Scripture doesn’t tell us if he lost any sleep the night before. It doesn’t tell us how many conversations he had with his mom about it. And it doesn’t tell us if he experienced any feelings of doubt or uncertainty as he took his first steps into what he knew would be a difficult ministry that would take him into darkness.
But I wonder if he did. I wonder if at some point Jesus, in his humanity, thought to himself, “Do these people think I’m crazy? Should I come back after lunch? Should I rework the slogan one more time?”
I wonder who, if anyone, paid attention that day. I wonder if it was a miserable first day on the job. And I wonder if it was with a head full of doubt that Jesus wandered along the Sea of Galilee looking for some friends, companionship, someone to keep him company at the end of a long, difficult, doubt-filled day.
I don’t know if any of this is true, but I do know God sent Jesus into the world so that we might hear him say, “I’ve felt the same as you.” And if Jesus expects us to follow him into the darkness - the dark alleys of our community and the dark corners of our hearts - I need to believe he experienced not just the dramatic suffering of his death, but the quiet, personal suffering of wondering if he said too much or too little, if it was worth showing up today, if people might be better off without him. Those are the questions that keep me from showing up when I need to show up, speaking out when I need to speak out, and showing my faith when I need to show my faith.
So I pray today that our God understands us and works in the quiet, gentle stirrings of our hearts. I pray our God is a God who cares for our small wounds as much as for our large ones. And I pray we open ourselves to however small a measure of grace we need in order to follow Christ into whichever darkness we can shed some light. Amen.