By Rev’d Dr Andrew Cameron, an adjunct Associate Professor in the Charles Sturt University School of Theology and the Director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre.
It’s not a question we naturally ask at Easter.
Maybe we don’t think about ‘religion’ very much, and Jesus is remote, and somehow ‘other’. Or we may respect Jesus or follow or worship him.
But to imagine being him?
The biblical Gospels give us plenty to work with on the other characters. Matthew 26 includes Peter’s serial denial of Jesus (vv. 57–75). Peter had previously proclaimed: ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!’ (v. 35). From time to time, we may imagine a faux-strength in our ego, which has turned out not to be true. Peter’s triumphant claim turns out to have been self-deception.
‘I don’t know the man!’ (vv 72, 74), he yells at two girls, some guards within earshot. Queasy, anxious ambivalence seems to roil his innards.
Then the rooster crows, and he remembers how Christ had predicted this, had somehow seen into him, and Peter weeps bitterly (v. 75). We sense self-loathing at total capitulation. He knew nothing of strength, everything of failure.
We also know inner division, what the ancients called ‘akrasia’, our many fears and wants churning our torso and limbs and head; we glimpse akrasia in Judas’s determination to betray (26:14).
What impulse of pompous self-righteousness drove that? His sunny, false, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ (v. 49) is quickly followed by remorse unto suicide (27:3–5). We may have been somewhere near feelings like those, too.
But, to feel like Jesus?
Matthew 26 does give hints of his inner life; ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow’ (v. 38), and in the pleas to God that follow.
Earlier in the Passion account, though, what might it have felt like to say, quite calmly, ‘The Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified’ (v. 2). Or, with some energy, ‘Why are you bothering this woman?’ (as they grumble against her ‘waste’ of something valuable). ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me’ (v. 10). Or straight to Judas (v. 50): ‘Do what you came for, friend.’
Such utterances ̶ imagine from where they sprang. The inner resolve. The wholeness of mind with heart and feeling. He has sorrow, to be sure. The pathetic tragedy of those around him calls forth something from his love for them, for what they could have been. He feels, more than anyone could feel, the loss of his Father God coming down the pipe. He will take to within Godself the brunt of God’s ‘no’ to the sins of the world.
In all this, Jesus has clarity and love for what and who matter most. These form the wellspring and the fullest range of his proper emotions.
But there is no akrasia here. We sense depth, and connectedness, and purpose, and resolve, and an ability to traverse loss and rejection that we sometimes call ‘courage’, but which is somehow more than even that.
We don’t easily empathise with him, because we do not regularly go to his kind of place. We have more often been to the place of Peter, and Judas. Or maybe even the High Priest Caiaphas, who does have a powerful executive resolve (to have Jesus killed). But it floats upon a sea of anxiety (about the crowds).
Jesus, however, gives himself to humanity as human, in part that we may get a glimpse, a sense, even a feeling, of how properly to be human.
People sometimes bridle at that thought. After all, if my identity is uniquely precious, why should I align it to his?
Or, if he was God, maybe he was a super-being unlike us. Or his sinlessness means we never get to compare with him. But those reactions miss the brilliance of the Incarnation, where the Second Person of the Trinity is also the human person, Jesus of Nazareth. That’s it. We’re invited to connect with his way of truly being human. We are being invited, through him, to ‘participate in the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4).
The Passion, of course, primarily brings relief: that every, single sin borne of fear and ambivalence and self-deception, can receive the mercy of God’s forgiveness, thanks to Christ’s atoning death and his superb Resurrection.
When you meet St Peter, ask him what it was like to be restored and forgiven a few days after the worst day of his life.
But in this season of Lent, and as you read and hear of his Passion, try something else. Try to imagine what it might have felt like to be the man who moved through it as Jesus did ̶ who could say, and do, and be, such as Jesus was. Imagine what it felt like to be him, in each utterance, interaction, and step toward the Cross.
You will love him more. You may even shift a little, within yourself, just a bit.
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