August 29, 2021
How did Jesus become a human being and why? Our Catholic tradition uses the word “The Incarnation” to describe how God becomes or enters into our human reality.
In the First Incarnation, God’s person and presence fills and creates all inanimate materials, planets and stars and universes.
In the Second Incarnation, God fills and creates human figures and breathes into them the breath of life. To be human is to be filled with the presence, the life, and the personality of God. To be human is the first principle of our Christian spirituality and the first principle of humanity. God graces our humanity and our human-ness with his divine presence — all humanity, of all cultures, places and languages.
- To be human is more important than being an American or an Afghan
- To be human is more important than being a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew.
- To be human is more important than being Italian, Mexican or African.
- To be human is more important than being a Taliban, an Isis, or an Al-Qaeda
- To be human is more important than being from New York, Mississippi, or California, from Los Angeles, Sacramento, or San Francisco
- To be human is more important than being from a tribe of peoples with their own customs, culture, rituals, and moral codes.
- Tribalism of one kind or another has caused wars, discrimination, racial hatred, and persecution — and so has politics
- To believe in a tribal God who considers every other religion in the world as infidels does not believe, really, that it is better first to be human.
The three monotheistic religions of the world — Jewish, Muslim, and Christian believe in the One True God of the Bible and the Quran, but often interpret it in a very tribal and inhumane ways– all in the name of the same God.
What kind of a reception would Jesus encounter today among the most traditional Jews who insist on the rigidity of their religious practice — clothes, dietary restrictions, ablutions and sectarianism. What kind of a reception would Jesus receive among the Muslims who maim and kill the sinner. This is not human.
If you stop to think about it – to be human is the message of Jesus: “to love God with our whole heart and soul and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Who is the neighbor if it is not every human being? Who is God if not his Son Jesus? God and Jesus live in the heart of each human being whether they know it, are aware of it, never think about it, or wish to deny it.
Jesus uses the words of the Prophet Isaiah to criticize the Pharisees for wanting to enforce the Jewish tribalism and to make religion just a practice of external rituals and severe doctrines:
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” (Matthew 15:8) Then, Jesus added a powerful insight into who is righteous and who is not.
“The things that come from within are what defile — evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly.”
The Book of Deuteronomy speaks about the commandments that God gave us. God tells us not to add or subtract one thing from them. Too often, we have received them and treated them as rules to be broken, now and then, rather than the wisdom of God broken down for simple people to include as the just way to live.
“Thus, will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence for the nations,” it was written.
The commandments were meant to draw us closer to God and enable us to give witness of how close God was to us by the way that we practiced them.
St. Paul shares with us today that God gives birth to the truth in our lives through how we live the truth. God is the “Father of Lights.” God plants His Word in our hearts and lives. We are “doers” for others of what God has done for us.
“Religion that is pure,” St. Paul writes, “is to care for orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
(Those were the two groups that especially needed help in the latter part of the 1st century because they were left completely to fend for themselves. They were the most human of the humans and needed the most respect and help.)
We do not leave the Love of God or neighbor on a shelf of “Theory.” We do not cover it with a veneer of piety, practice and doctrine.
We practice it one human being to and for another human being, every day, every moment of every day. This is “the religion” that is pure and undefiled before God who is the Father of Lights.
In his Encyclical letter, “Fratelli Tutti” last year, Pope Francis takes us back to the beginning, to the Book of Genesis — to the fundamental awareness and principle that to be human is the first grace bestowed upon us by God.
This fundamental truth has always been hiding there in the Book of Genesis — that God created Adam, from the soil, the humus of dirt and breathed into us the breath of life. Then, God made us in his image and likeness. How we are human reflects the image and the likeness of God. What a gift! What a treasure! What a responsibility!
Jesus becomes the Third Incarnation to show us what we fail to understand about our humanness. We become the Fourth Incarnation when and as we begin to be who created us.