2 Sam 11:1-15 / John 19: 1-5
King David was Israel’s greatest King and came to be portrayed as the ‘ideal’ monarch. The Gospels of Matthew & Luke refer to Jesus as being descended from David and locate Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, as also the birthplace of Jesus. Today, Jews pray daily for the coming of the “Messiah, son of David.”
In the OT book of 2 Samuel chapter 11 and verses 1-15 we see another side of this ‘ideal’ King. A man with feet of clay — prone, as are all human beings, to weakness. It raises the question about what it means to be human.
We often make a distinction between being human acting humanely. What does it mean to be human? It’s a simple question, but unwraps a complex issue. It’s a question that’s been asked for thousands of years. Priests and poets, philosophers and politicians, scientists and artists have all sought to answer this ultimate puzzle about human nature but have never really got to the bottom of this tantalising question.
When we make mistakes and get things wrong; when we misjudge things incorrectly; when we behave badly and act out of self- interest; whenever we fail to give of our best, we justify ourselves by saying “I’m only human”, as if being human is to be flawed. Thankfully, there is another side to human nature. If we think of what it means to ‘act humanely’ we often see superb examples of this. Indeed, we are aware of human weakness and shortcoming because we see the other side, that there is also something excellent and impressive about being human.
Being Human is the title of a book by Roman Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. The book ends with a brief but profound meditation on the person of Christ which Rowan Williams invites us to consider,
‘ Our humanity ‘ Writes Williams. ‘in all its variety, in all its vulnerability, has been taken into the heart of the divine life’. By which I think he means that humanity, warts and all, is embraced by the love of God. Because of that acceptance of our humanity we discover the freedom to change.
The Gospel’s portray Jesus as human, the human being par excellence! A man who lived totally for God, whose belief in God determined the course of his whole life; a man who permitted God to so control his life that the presence of God became intimately real in the the whole of his life. Indeed, it became impossible to distinguish the life of Jesus from God and vice Vera. Even at his most wretched,
indeed in his most human vulnerability, his followers the Gospels and the Church throughout the ages, have perceived God’s eternal presence.
Take that passage from the 19th.chapter of St. John’s Gospel, verses 1-5 when Pilate brings Jesus before the people. Jesus had been arrested and handed over to Pilate. In Pilate’s company he is ruthlessly beaten. .The next time Jesus is seen by the crowd, he is dressed in a purple robe and wears a crown of thorns. He is a pathetic figure – beaten, bruised and bleeding. “Here is the man” said Pilate.
Pilates words are difficult to translate. It is as if he is saying “Look at this!” Is this pathetic spectacle of humanity really worth all this trouble? He hoped the crowd would be satisfied and disperse.
Pilate hits the truth accidentally. Jesus in his complete humiliation, is set forth as the ‘heavenly man’. The words “Here is the man” is charged with sarcasm. It is a phrase that cannot be accurately translated. But across the centuries we have come to perceive another meaning. Here, in this life of perfect obedience and love; here in this courage that bears the worst that hate can do is nevertheless serenity at its best; here in this love which is unquenched and undiminished – even by the desertion of friends is, according to the Apostle a paradox. This pathetic human being you see before you is indeed ‘The Word made flesh’
In this defeated and broken human being we see humanity fulfilling its true destiny and revealed as far superior to any other circumstance. Here we see humanity undefeated by the cruelty of human hatred, and power. Here we see this defeated human being – as the Letter to the Hebrews states: –
is one who for a little while was made lower than the angels,
now crowned with glory and honour,
because of the suffering of death, (Hebrews 2:8- 9)
In those events we see the birth of a new humanity! Even In human weakness and depravation we see the grace of God emerging and rising as surely as the morning sun emerges to disperse the darkness and usher in a new day.
What it means to be human, really human, is attained through relationship with God rather than through our struggle to understand human nature or through our feeble efforts to justify our actions and behaviour. Existing in that relationship is what determines what we are and how we live and fulfil our true nature!
Holy God, we acknowledge you, the Creator of all life;
far beyond our grasp,
mysterious, profound, eternal
yet so accessible and hospitable to all who need you,
genuinely trust you and turn to you .
We marvel at your astonishing grace, the unsparing love with which you constantly embrace us.
You come to us as the vital breath which enables us to live as your people.
In Jesus we glimpse something of your tender, healing presence, and in him we share that blessed togetherness with you, with one another and with those who have died.
In him we begin the glorious process of being transformed into your image, enabled to faithfully demonstrate the humanity into which we are born.
Help us to have confidence in you and to open ourselves to your transforming love.
Through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Revd Michael Diffey