You often hear it said of ideal couples: “It’s a match made in heaven.” Marriage indeed is a symbol of the perfect union between that which previously seemed hopelessly estranged. What could be more untraversable, for instance, than the cultural abyss separating men and women? But through the power of self-emptying love, the gender gap is bridged every day in churches, synagogues, and other places of worship around the world. Love happens in spite of our differences.
Marriage also is a rather fitting analogy for the identity of Jesus. It took the Church six centuries of christological debate and reflection to verbalize it, but the doctrine of the hypostatic union is an attempt to explain how Jesus could be both God and man at the same time. Although it remains a dogmatic mystery, Jesus’ two natures, human and divine, are inseparable. Jesus will forever be the God-man, fully God and fully human, two distinct natures in one Person. His humanity and divinity are not mixed, but are united without loss of separate identity.
Ironically, this rather arcane doctrine is what gives Christianity its unique flavor among the world religions. The unity of the human and divine in Christ is similar to a marriage, eternally joining two separated identities that seemingly were insurmountable. But it was not a match made in heaven. It was made on earth in the womb of a young virgin of no consequence and brought forth on the cold, hard ground of a cave in the dark of night surrounded by the sweat and smell of stable animals.
In other words, it was a distinctly human event forged in the furnace of misery by a deity who deigned to join us in the experience of mortality. Ultimately, it was this God-man hybrid that seamlessly joined human beings to their Creator and, as Saint Anselm so profoundly said in the twelfth century, satisfied the inevitable space between the perfect and imperfect natures of the latter and the former.
Zaccheus the despised tax collector in the gospel story this weekend somehow must have understood this when he scrambled up a tree to see Jesus in the crowd and soon succumbed to the irresistible embrace of salvation. Though we all desire perfect marriages, happy children, meaningful work, and moral lifestyles, none of us has it all together. The falls and failures that critics of Christianity relish to characterize as hypocrisy are no more than the inevitable foibles of all humans. The difference is that Christians believe they are not left to the unbearable task of their own redemption.
Join us at church for the third week of our message series, CSI: Christ Scene Investigation. This weekend, our search for the proof of the divinity of Christ brings us to the qualities of Jesus himself, one of the most compelling and endearing of which is his inexorable power to forgive.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Fr. Roger Gustafson is the Pastor of Saint Brendan Church in San Francisco