In the Name...
There was once a fellow who was feeling overwhelmed at work and said, in his defence, "Look, what do you expect from me? I'm only human!"
I'm only human. It's a standard line and it's sort of an excuse to explain away our propensity to forget, to daydream, to be unprepared and, as such, it's not only a confession that we make mistakes in life, it's also a promise that we'll make more in the future. After all, "We're only human."
Our Old Testament lesson today really spoke to this. The Garden of Eden. What greater example of the frailty of human nature? It's easy for us, though, to get all caught up in the details of the story, the talking serpent, the infamous apple, the fig leaves. It's easy for us to forget what preceded that.
When, at the beginning of Genesis it said that "the Lord God made the earth and the heavens" that meant a lot more than just the soil and the air. To the authors of Genesis, earth and heaven meant everything seen and unseen, everything physical and spiritual, things we experience and things beyond our experience, the totality of creation from atoms to angels. And, as the story tells us, the last thing God did on the sixth day, after creating all these amazing things, the last thing he did was to make one more thing and in a way that he had made nothing else. He took earthly dust and breathed into it his personal heavenly breath of life. The last thing God created was us - Humans. Creatures who combine earth and heaven within themselves.
Humans were the last thing God made because we were the last thing he could make. That's important so I'll say it again. Humans were the last thing God made because we were the last thing he could make. Mankind is the summit, the pinnacle of creation, made, as Genesis tells us, in the image and likeness of God. Nothing else is so described.
In ancient times, most peoples thought the gods they worshipped were just like them, but, bigger and more powerful. The pagan gods were petty and jealous, unjust and self-serving, lusting and greedy. The pagans created their gods in the image of themselves. But, the Bible tells of a God who is perfect justice, perfect love, perfect generosity, perfect wisdom. And this perfect God says that we are created in his image because we can do things that reflect his perfect life.
We can love, not just desire. We can be generous and self-sacrificing. We can be both imaginative and logical. We can smash atoms and probe other planets. And, we can bring new human life into being. To be human, then, is no small thing.
So, why has “only human” become a cop-out? Because of Eden. Because in Eden, mankind yielded to the most basic temptation of all for a creature made in God's image - the temptation to play god.
It's ironic that Genesis describes what Adam and Eve sought to achieve as the power of judgement, of "knowing good and evil" when, in fact, we often can't tell the difference. That's why mankind can produce a Mother Teresa and an Osama Bin Laden. Because in Eden, mankind learned that it possessed another kind of power, the terrible power to separate itself from God and, in exercising that power, we lost our way, we lost sight of the truth, and we lost the life for which we had been created.
Our Gospel today shows us how much we've lost. In his encounter with Jesus, Satan tries to tempt him to give up on us by showing how worthless mankind has become.
The challenge to turn stones to bread was not so that Jesus could have a snack. It was to remind Jesus that people follow anyone who feeds them. The challenge to fly above the temple was to remind Jesus that people follow anyone who entertains them. The challenge to rule all the kingdoms was to remind Jesus that people follow anyone who protects them.
The challenge to Jesus, the temptation, was not to waste his time on such pathetic, fickle and ungrateful creatures as humans. After all, he was the Son of God. He had better things to do ruling the universe, being adored by angels. Why did he need to bother with us?
And, Satan was right. We're nothing to write home about. But, there's one thing he forgot. God loves us.
It's that simple. It defies logic, but, love is illogical, and God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus came to bring us back to the way, the truth, and the life which the Father wants us to have.
The Incarnation is the ultimate proof that being human is not a crime. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and today's Gospel should make each one of us reflect on what Jesus gave up for Lent, or rather what Jesus took on for eternity. He gave up spiritual being-ness and took on our flesh. He gave up the comfortable perfection of Heaven and took on our insecure experience of life. He gave up remoteness and took on our joys, our relationships and, even though he knew he had the power to raise the dead, he still wept at the grave of a friend. And, he knew praise, betrayal, injustice, torture, and death - all in one terrible, holy, week.
Yes, it would have been easier for Jesus to give up on us for Lent and forever. To say, yeah, they're only human. Who needs them? But, he knew what being human really meant; being the image of God, being the summit of creation, being his Father's last act. Giving up on us was the real temptation, and, I think we're all glad he didn't yield to it.
But, when we're tempted to give up on him, how do we respond?
There was once a young man whose company sent him to Spain for six months to open a new office. He was excited to get the posting because he figured that with the bonus he'd be able to marry his girlfriend and have a nice nest egg when he got back. Well, his girlfriend e-mailed him that she was concerned because she'd heard the senoritas of Spain could be quite a temptation. He e-mailed back that they were, but he was resisting. One day, he got a small package from her. It was a harmonica. And, in her letter, she said she hoped he'd use it to learn love songs for her during the long, lonely nights. So, the day came he returned home and as he got off the plane and rushed to embrace his girlfriend she said, "Not so fast. I want to hear how well you play the harmonica."
God knows that being human brings its challenges and, at the end of the day, when we stand before him he won't ask us how or if we were tempted, because he knows we have been and are. But, he just might ask us, how well did we learn the harmonica? What love songs to Him have we practiced? How did we reflect His image?
It's not an impossible task. We can do it. After all, we're human. The only thing that is.
In the Name...