By KATIE GROSS
Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.
Surely he did not help angels
but rather the descendants of Abraham;
therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters
in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God
to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.
In this second reading for the Feast of the Presentation, we listen to a beautiful truth that distinguishes our faith from allothers: our God came down from His place in heaven and chose willingly to “share our flesh and blood.” And not only did Jesus Christ experience our humanity, but He also experienced the depths of our suffering. Why is this so important for us as Christians?
Allow me to digress-- I have always been a bit, well, argumentative. My grandfather is a law professor at Cornell, and I remember vividly watching him and my mother battle it out (albeit respectfully) at the kitchen table over political issues when I was a child. I idolized my grandfather. I wanted to be just like him, so I started reading up on my politics and getting more involved in the conversations they would have. Imagine my frustration, then, when I would enter into a debate and immediately get shut down for “not having enough life experience”! In hindsight, they were right. As a young person, I had not paid taxes. I had not lived in poverty, like my grandfather did in his young life. I had not lived enough to weigh in on the issues they debated.
But back to the question: why is it so important that Jesus experienced our suffering and lived through the darkest parts of our humanity? Jesus had “life experience.” There was no angle of our humanity that Jesus hadn’t seen, no depth of suffering that He didn’t experience firsthand. It is for this reason that we know everything He says is true— he not only talked the talk, but also walked the walk. Our world today is very dark. If God had not lived through our darkness, He would not be able to offer us the hope that He alone can offer.
Take for example, the darkness of poverty. You don’t have to travel to a developing country to see miserable poverty—just hop on highway 35 for twenty minutes. This Friday, a couple of my friends from a school organization and I spent time with the Missionaries of Charity in Dallas. One of the sisters told us that they had been busy all day caring for the home of a family who lived down the street. The mother had not done housework in a long time because her young child has both the flu and leukemia. I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to lose hope in her situation. She is poor. She has a child who is very ill. Her house is in shambles. How, then, can she not lose hope? She can keep hope because God too was poor. God too was subjected to great suffering.
Or take for example, the persecuted. There is a huge refugee community in Dallas. Many of them are religious or ethnic minorities, driven from their countries by their leaders or by war. Some families have children who were born in refugee camps. Many children struggle to learn English (which is a very difficult second language) and have to go through public schools scraping up enough basic words to get by. How can the persecuted have hope? Because Jesus too was persecuted.
How about those who are living in fear? Jesus too experienced great fear. Or those who were betrayed? Jesus was betrayed. Or those who feel as if nobody understands them? Nobody understood Jesus. What makes Christianity so incredible is that God not only loves us, but He also deeply understands us. There is no depth that we can sink to that God does not sympathize with and understand. This is how we as Christians can have hope in seemingly hopeless situations.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Isaiah 53:4).