Choose    [ PDF Version ]     [ RTF Version ]     [ EBook Version ]    for saving the document.

Jesus, a Man in Solidarity with All Humanity

General Audience — February 10, 1988

Jesus Christ, true man, is "like us in all things but sin," as we saw in our previous reflection. Sin is essentially excluded in him who, being true man, is also true God ( verus homo, not merus homo ).

Christ's whole earthly life and the entire unfolding of his mission bear witness to the truth of his absolute impeccability. He himself issued the challenge: "Can any of you charge me with sin?" (Jn 8:46). A man without sin, during his whole life Jesus Christ was engaged in a struggle against sin, beginning with Satan who is the father of lies in human history "from the beginning" (cf. Jn 8:44). This struggle began on the threshold of Jesus' messianic mission, in the moment of the temptation (cf. Mk 1:13; Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). It reached its apex in the cross and resurrection. It is a struggle which ends in victory.

This struggle against sin and its roots did not alienate Jesus from people. On the contrary, it brought him closer to them, to every individual. During his earthly life Jesus was accustomed to show himself particularly close to those who were regarded by others as sinners. We see it in many texts of the Gospel.

Under this aspect the comparison which Jesus made between himself and John the Baptist is important. He said, "John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, 'Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'" (Mt 11:18-19). The polemical character of these words is evident in regard to those who first of all criticized John the Baptist, a solitary prophet and severe ascetic who baptized at the Jordan. Then they criticized Jesus because he moved about and worked among the people. However, these words also reveal the truth of Jesus' mode of being, of feeling and of behavior in regard to sinners.

He was criticized for being a friend of public sinners and tax collectors, who lived by extortion and were regarded as non-observers of the law (cf. Mt 5:46; 9:11; 18:17). Jesus did not absolutely reject this judgment. Its truth is confirmed by many episodes recorded in the Gospels, though without any suggestion of Jesus turning a blind eye or remaining silent. There is the case of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho. Jesus invited himself to his home. Jesus told him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." Being small in stature, Zacchaeus had climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus who was passing by. The tax collector came down full of joy and offered Jesus the hospitality of his home. He heard Jesus say to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost" (cf. Lk 19:1-10). This text highlights not only Jesus' familiarity with tax collectors and sinners, but also the reason why he sought their company: their salvation.

A similar event is linked to the name of Levi, son of Alphaeus. This was all the more significant inasmuch as this man, whom Jesus had seen "seated at the customs post," was called to become one of the apostles. "Follow me," Jesus said to him. And he got up and followed him. He is listed among the Twelve under the name of Matthew, and we know that he is the author of one of the Gospels. The evangelist Mark tells us that Jesus "was at table in his house," and that "many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples" (cf. Mk 2:13-15). In this case also "some scribes who were Pharisees" remonstrated with his disciples. But Jesus said to them, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mk 2:17).

To be seated at table with others—including "tax collectors and sinners"—is a way of being human which one notes in Jesus from the very beginning of his messianic activity. One of the first occasions on which he manifested his messianic power was at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee, at which he was present together with his mother and disciples (cf. Jn 2:1-12). Later, moreover, Jesus was accustomed to accept invitations to table, not merely from the tax collectors, but also from the Pharisees, who were his fiercest adversaries. For example, we read in Luke, "A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table" (Lk 7:36).

During this meal, something happened that throws a new light on Jesus' attitude to poor humanity, comprising so many sinners whom the presumed righteous people despise and condemn. A woman known in the city as a sinner was among those present. Weeping, she kissed Jesus' feet and anointed them with ointment. A discussion began between Jesus and his host, during which Jesus showed that an essential link exists between forgiveness of sins and love inspired by faith. "Her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much.... Then he said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven...your faith has saved you; go in peace'" (cf. Lk 7:36-50).

This is not the only case of its kind. There is another dramatic case, that of a woman caught in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11). This event also, like the previous one, explains in what sense Jesus was "a friend of tax collectors and sinners." He said to the woman, "Go, and do not sin again." He who was "like us in all things but sin," was shown to be close to sinners in order to free them from sin. However, he aimed at this messianic purpose in a completely new way compared with the severity reserved for sinners by those who judged them on the basis of the Old Law. Jesus worked in the spirit of a great love for every human person, on the basis of the profound solidarity which he had for those created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1).

What is this solidarity? It is the manifestation of the love which has its source in God himself. The Son of God came into the world to reveal this love. He already revealed it by the fact that he himself became man, one of us. This union with us on the part of Jesus Christ, true man, is the fundamental expression of his solidarity with every human person. It speaks eloquently of the love with which God himself has loved each and every person. Love is confirmed here in an entirely special way—one who loves seeks to share everything with the beloved. It is precisely for this reason that the Son of God became man. Isaiah had prophesied of him, "Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured" (cf. Mt 8:17; Is 53:4). Jesus thus shared the same existential condition with every son and daughter of the human race. In this he also revealed the existential dignity of each and every human person. The Incarnation is an ineffable "re-evaluation" of the human person and of humanity!

This "love-solidarity" stands out in the entire earthly life and mission of the Son of Man, especially in regard to those who suffer under the weight of misery, whether physical or moral. At the end of his journey there will be the "giving of his life as a ransom for many" (cf. Mk 10:45), the redemptive sacrifice of the cross. However, on the way leading to this supreme sacrifice, Jesus' entire earthly life manifested his solidarity with mankind. He summed up in his own words: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). He was a child like every human child. He worked with his hands alongside Joseph of Nazareth, just as all people work (cf. Encyclical Laborem Exercens 26). He was a son of Israel; he shared in the culture, tradition, hope and suffering of his people. He, too, experienced what often happens in the life of those called to some mission: misunderstanding and betrayal by one of those whom he himself had chosen as his apostles to continue his work. For this he experienced a profound sorrow (cf. Jn 13:21).

When the moment drew near in which he was "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28), Jesus voluntarily offered himself (cf. Jn 10:18), thus consummating the mystery of his solidarity in the sacrifice. The Roman governor found no other words to describe him before his assembled accusers except "Behold the man!" (Jn 19:5).

Pilate was unaware of the mystery but not insensitive to the attraction which issued from Jesus even in that moment. His words tell us everything about Christ's human reality. Jesus is the man; a true man who, like us in all things but sin, became a victim for sin and entered into solidarity with all, even to death on a cross.