An excerpt from Fortune Cookie Wisdom: a contemplative perspective
This reflection is about how we discover the truth in our lives.
“From error to error, one discovers the entire truth” – Dr. Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychologist (1856-1939). Could Jesus, while he walked the earth, identify with Freud’s statement? If the words are applicable to the human condition it is reasonable to assume that the answer is “yes.” For Christians, the great mystery of Jesus is that he was truly human and truly God. A Jesus without the truly human aspect leaves only the divine, which would mean that he wasn’t really like us at all. The New Testament refers to how Christ lived while he walked upon the earth. It reminds us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
As human beings we can learn from our mistakes. They are an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, about the way in which God works in our lives, and to grow, as Jesus did, “…in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). One of the most important things Jesus taught is the need to be open and to learn from life experience. It may seem unusual, even challenging to think of Jesus as being someone capable of making a mistake. It is important to note that sin involves intention; making an innocent error is not sinful. It is an inescapable part of the human condition. Again, the fact that Jesus was truly human is a fundamental truth of Christianity. “We believe…true God and true man…not a phantasm, but the one and only Son of God” (Council of Lyons II, DS 852). This doctrine was more recently affirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized,
The new relationship in which the Word, in taking on flesh and becoming human like us, has initiated himself with every human being. By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man and woman. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin (GS 22).
Truth was essential to Jesus. He spoke about it just prior to his death as he stood before Pontius Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37 – 38). In response Pilate uttered the infamous question, “What is truth?”
When reflecting on Jesus’ words to Pilate we might ask, “To what aspect of his being was Jesus referring? What is the truth to which his life gives testimony?” It is a question well worth pondering. And further, “How did Jesus come to know that truth?” The likely answer is that the truth in Jesus’ life was revealed to him gradually as his life evolved and unfolded. Since he was human, this necessarily included learning from his mistakes. This is important because as followers of Christ, we will discover the truth about our own lives, and who we are in relation to God, the same way.
Only a humble heart can be guided by the wisdom of Freud’s statement. Jesus’ earthly life provides a most excellent model of humility for us to emulate. His humble way of life is a path on which he invites you and I to follow, “…learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). But what is behind the humility of Christ?
Jesus being “humble of heart” epitomizes a human being’s relationship with God. Although it does not always receive the amount of attention as his divinity, Jesus’ humanity was the same human nature, and God’s grace, that you and I have to work with in the pursuit of truth in our own lives.
The greatest movie I have ever seen depicting the life of Jesus is the controversial 1988 Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The following summary of the movie is taken from Wikipedia:
Based on an earlier novel by the same title, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ. Its central thesis is that Jesus, while free from sin, was still subject to every form of temptation that humans face, including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted Biblical-portrayal of Jesus’ life, and that it is not intended to be an exact recreation of the events detailed in the Gospels.
This film dares to depict a Jesus that has real human feelings and emotions. He was depicted as a person capable of imagining, even desiring, a life different than the one he was being called to live. In the end despite the powerful temptation to choose another way, he chooses to be true to himself and to whom God was calling him to be: the Christ. Until seeing Jesus portrayed in this way I never realized how important the human part of his being is to my personal belief in him.
For the most part, traditional “Jesus movies” are film adaptations of the Gospel. Moving from one biblical scene to the next they show a very compassionate, heroic, courageous, yet tragically misunderstood Jesus. The portrayal of a Jesus who is always brave, always in the role of the teacher, a Jesus that is apparently filled with nothing but wisdom, is not a Jesus that experiences what it means to be human. While no film or book is comparable to Sacred Scripture, which is the written word of God, it is important to realize that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are skeletal at best. Jesus’ life and personality while he walked on earth involved infinitely more than the few scenes and words recorded in the Bible. Experiencing a film like The Last Temptation of Christ can be helpful. It presents aspects of Jesus life not revealed in scripture in a way that, while fictional, portrays a fuller version of what his personality might have been like from a human perspective.
The year 1988 was a difficult time for me. It was a time when I was personally struggling with depression, fear and confusion in my own life. After seeing the movie with a couple of friends I came out of the theater feeling renewed and filled with hope. For the first time I was able to see Jesus from a different perspective, a human perspective. Seeing him portrayed as a real human being, as someone who could make mistakes and learn from them instead of as a deity pretending to be one of us was eye-opening. I felt that I could relate to this kind of Jesus and equally important, that he could relate to me. The movie helped me to realize that Jesus truly walked in my shoes and that he had to experience the same kind of darkness and inner struggles that I do and, obviously, much more. The moment I realized that he lived his life without possessing some unfair advantage that I don’t have, that he was really human, I was able to open my heart to him at a more meaningful level.
So then, what was Christ really like when he walked upon the earth? No one really knows but long before his birth the prophet Isaiah had this to say,
He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem (Isaiah 53:2-3).
As human beings we need a God that we can relate to and a God that can relate to us. The fact that Jesus experienced the fullness of humanity is critically important. If Jesus were anything less than truly and fully human it would mean that the only possible relationship between God and us would be a pie-in-the-sky relationship with a God that looks down from afar. Thankfully, this is not the case for, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The Book of Proverbs instructs us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5). Jesus lived these words while he walked on the Earth, and he did it as one of us, within the limits and confines of the human condition. Jesus shows us, by example, that it is possible to evolve from living a life that is dominated by fear to living a life that is centered on trust. This is an important part of the truth to which Jesus’ life gives testimony. A careful read of Scripture reveals that it was necessary for Jesus to trust in God, whom he called Father.
Humility opens our eyes to God’s presence. It was true for Jesus and so it is for us. Our humility and trust in God’s presence makes it possible for us to keep our minds open when things in life do not seem to be going according to our plans or as we would like them to go. Richard Carlton’s very popular (1997) self-help book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: and its all-small stuff, contained a powerful reflection titled, Get comfortable Not Knowing, in which he addresses the need for us to keep an open mind especially in the face of adversity. The main point of the reflection is that sometimes we may interpret a life event to be something bad when in hindsight we are surprised to discover that it led to something good. The reflection ends with the following words:
The moral of this story provides a powerful lesson. The truth is, we don’t know what’s going to happen – we just think we do. Often we make a big deal out of something. We blow up scenarios in our minds about all the terrible things that are going to happen. Most of the time we are wrong. If we keep our cool and stay open to possibilities, we can be reasonably certain that, eventually, “all will be well.”
Learning from our mistakes as Freud’s statement, “From error to error, one discovers the entire truth,” suggests will require authentic humility. “Staying open to possibilities” when things seem to be going wrong requires trust. We need to trust that God is present within whatever situation we might be facing to guide and direct us. Trust helps us to get through the situation and to grow spiritually through the difficulty in a way we never imagined.
The title of Carlton’s reflection suggests something that is very difficult to put into practice. It suggests that we, “get comfortable not knowing.” This is one of the great challenges of the spiritual life. Jesus trusted that the Father would provide a way for him in the midst of his own trials and tribulations. He needed to trust when he could not see that way for himself, without knowing how his father would provide for him. As followers of Jesus we will need to do the same; we need to become “meek and humble of heart.” In so doing, with our lives grounded in trust, we will eventually discover the entire truth; and our lives will testify to it.
The Common Thread: Reflect upon Jesus’ admonition to be “meek and humble of heart” in relation to the circumstances of your own life.