“What a strange thing it is to recognize a sound like the shriek of a wounded animal, when you’ve never heard the shriek of a wounded animal.”
― John L’Heureux,
Theres a sense in which you just know, isn’t there? You look at someone and just know that they are in terrible trouble. Some people have it to a heightened degree but all (of us) share that sense to some degree.
You know what’s going on in someone else, even, as John L’Heureux put it so memorably, if your knowledge and experience is limited.
You just know.
But is that possible? How can we “just know” something of which we have no knowledge or experience? And if that is indeed the case, then why do some people possess the perception to a greater degree than others?
I think that the answer is that we have a great deal more in common than we sometimes imagine. We share the commonalty of the human experience. We are all pretty much the same, under the disguise of skin colour, language, cultural background, “clothes on da back and money in da pocket” differences.
We’re all human.
And, of course, where this fellow-feeling is most acute is within families (as the photo at the top testifies). We are inextricably linked with the thoughts and feelings of those that we love, and what goes on in their hearts and minds resounds and echoes in our own.
This indisputable fact of experience makes it interesting, then, that the God of the Bible should describe Himself as “Father.” Is this just a metaphor of parentage, extrapolated from an understanding of God as creator of the cosmos? That’s how Isaiah presents it, on several occasions:
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself…” (Isaiah 44:24)
No, there’s more to it than that. The Bible goes much further than saying that God simply created humanity. It says He “knows” us, and is involved in the pattern of our lives. The word to Jeremiah is perhaps unique to him, but it exemplifies something of God’s heart for each of us:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
And when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, it was the word “Father” that He used to express this sense of the One who created, who had compassion, and who called His own into service and relationship.
And of all the titles available for Jesus to describe who He was, the one that He invariably used of Himself was”Son of Man.”
Of course, in the context of first-century Roman Palestine, designations such as “King” or “Lord” or even “Messiah,” were best avoided, as red rags to a bull. “Teacher,” “Rabbi” or “Prophet” were useful, but inadequate. But, as I say, Jesus gave none of these the emphasis that He gave to “Son of Man.”
The reason is that He wished to emphasise the most important aspect of who He was. If that aspect was royalty, it would have been “Son of David,” and if Jewishness, heritage or tradition, it would have been “Son of Abraham” or “Son of Israel.”
And if He wished to emphasize His divinity, He might have said “Son of God, ” as others did.
But to insist on “Son of Man” meant an insistence upon humanity. One modern version even translates the phrase as “The Human One.”
For this is the authentic “Emmanuel,” “God-with-us.” He is the creator who has compassion, who is intrinsically involved in the lives of His people. He even denied the pull of His own family because of the needs of the wider human family.
And yet, there’s an astonishing difference between Him and us. It’s simply stated in that question that He flung at His critics: “Whch of you accuses me of sin?” And they were silent. The difference between me as a human one and Jesus as The Human One is that He never sinned. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22).
This makes Him not less human than me, but more so. Sin was never part of the original design, so as far as being human goes, I’m damaged goods, not fit to pass quality control. But He’s the real thing.
The one real Human.
He is the only one who is fully able to hear “the shriek of a wounded animal.” He knew what was in people’s hearts because His own mind was not overwhelmed with selfishness. He could see the good and bad in Peter. He stood next to the “woman taken in adultery” and faced off the crowd howling for her blood. He bent down and washed the feet of Judas. Everything that beat in the heart of humanity beat in His own heart too, for He was Son of Man. He stood among the broken and the lost with infinite compassion and tenderness.
The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
He understand me! Imagine that. He feels sympathy for my weakness because He knows what the temptation feels like!
And so I come, again, this morning, Lord, asking mercy for my sins, and finding grace for my time of need.
And Lord, let me be like you towards others too. More human.
Fully alive to the feeling between us.