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Like Us in All Things Except Sin

General Audience — February 3, 1988

—    Jesus' psychological life

Jesus Christ is true man. We wish to continue the previous reflection on this theme, which is a fundamental truth of our faith. This faith is based on the word of Christ himself, confirmed by the witness of the apostles and disciples. It was transmitted from generation to generation in the Church's teaching: "We believe...true God and true man...not a phantasm, but the one and only Son of God" (Council of Lyons II, DS 852).

More recently the same doctrine was recalled by the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized the new relationship which the Word, on taking flesh and becoming man like us, has initiated with every human being. "By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin" (GS 22).

In the previous reflection we sought to show Christ's likeness to us, which derives from the fact that he is true man. "The Word made flesh"; flesh (sarx) indicates man precisely as a corporeal being (sarkikos), who comes into being through being born of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4). In his corporeal nature Jesus of Nazareth, like every man, experienced fatigue, hunger and thirst. His body was vulnerable, subject to suffering, and sensitive to physical pain. It was precisely in this flesh (sarx) that he was subjected to dreadful tortures and was eventually crucified. "He was crucified, died and was buried."

The conciliar text quoted above completes this picture still more when it says: "He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart" (GS 22).

1.  Jesus' psychological life

Today we shall pay particular attention to this last statement which brings us to the heart of Jesus' psychological life. He truly experienced human feelings of joy, sadness, anger, wonder and love. For example, we read that "Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit" (Lk 10:21). He wept over Jerusalem. "He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If this day you only knew what makes for peace'" (Lk 19:41-42). He also wept after the death of his friend Lazarus. "When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Sir, come and see.' And Jesus wept" (Jn 11:33-35).

His feelings of sorrow were especially intense in the Garden of Gethsemane. We read: "He took with him Peter, James and John and began to be troubled and distressed. Then Jesus said to them, 'My soul is sorrowful even to death'" (Mk 14:33-34; cf. also Mt 26:37). In Luke we read: "He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground" (Lk 22:44). This was a fact of the psycho-physical order which once again attests to Jesus' true humanity.

We read also of Jesus' anger. When on the sabbath he cured the man with the withered hand, Jesus first of all asked those present, "'Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil?' But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out and his hand was restored" (Mk 3:4-5).

Similarly in the case of the buyers and sellers who were driven out of the Temple, Matthew writes: "He drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, 'It is written: "My house shall be a house of prayer," but you have made it a den of thieves'" (Mt 21:12-13; cf. Mk 11:15).

Elsewhere we read that Jesus "was amazed." "He was amazed at their lack of faith" (Mk 6:6). Or he was moved to admiration, as when he said, "Notice how the flowers grow...not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them" (Lk 12:27). He also admired the faith of the Canaanite woman: "O woman, great is your faith!" (Mt 15:28).

Above all, the Gospels show that Jesus was a person who loved. We read that during his conversation with the young man who had come to ask him what he ought to do in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him" (Mk 10:21). The evangelist John writes that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (Jn 11:5), and John called himself "the disciple...whom Jesus loved" (Jn 13:23).

Jesus loved children. "And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them.... He embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them" (Mk 10:13-16). When he proclaimed the commandment of love, he referred to the love with which he himself loved. "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you" (Jn 15:12).

Christ's passion, especially the agony on the cross, constitutes the zenith of the love with which Jesus, "having loved his own who were in the world, loved them unto the end" (Jn 13:1). "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). At the same time this is also the nadir of the sorrow and abandonment which he experienced during his earthly life. The words "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabacthani...My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mk 15:34) will forever remain a piercing expression of this abandonment. They are words which Jesus took from Psalm 22 (verse 2), and they express the excruciating agony of his soul and body, including the mysterious sensation of being momentarily abandoned by God. It was the most dramatically agonizing moment of the whole passion!

Jesus therefore became truly similar to men, by assuming the condition of a servant, as the letter to the Philippians expresses it (cf. 2:7). However, the Letter to the Hebrews, speaking of him as "high priest of the good things that have come to be" (Heb 9:11), confirms and clarifies that this is not a "priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin" (cf. Heb 4:15). Truly he "knew not sin," even though St. Paul will say that "for our sake God made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).

The same Jesus could issue the challenge, "Can any of you charge me with sin?" (Jn 8:46). The faith of the Church is expressed as follows: "He was conceived, born and died without sin." This was proclaimed, in harmony with the whole of Tradition, by the Council of Florence (Decree for the Jacobites, DS 1347). Jesus "was conceived, was born and died without sin." He is the truly just and holy man.

We repeat with the New Testament, with the creed, and with Vatican Council II that Jesus Christ "has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin." It is precisely thanks to this likeness that "Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear" (GS 22).

Through this observation, Vatican Council II gives yet again the answer to the fundamental question which forms the title of St. Anselm's celebrated treatise, Cur Deus homo? It is a question of the intellect that explores the mystery of God the Son, who became true man "for us men and for our salvation," as we profess in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

Christ has fully revealed man to himself precisely by the fact that "he knew not sin," for sin does not enrich man. Quite the contrary—it cheapens him, it diminishes him and it deprives him of the fullness which is his due (cf. GS 13). The rescue and the salvation of fallen man is the fundamental reason for the Incarnation.