Son of Man

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Four Sections from Son of Man

These are selections originally posted on the website of St Michael's Russian Catholic Church in New York.

Neither Male Nor Female: All One in Christ[1]

Christ confirmed a new view of women even in the very beginning of his ministry.

Going to Galilee from Jerusalem, He passed through the lands of the Samaritans. One sultry midday, exhausted from His travels, Jesus sat down to rest by an old well, from which the locals had drawn water from time immemorial. The disciples, taking leave of Him, headed off to gather food.

While they were gone, a Samaritan woman came up to the spring with a pitcher on her head. She was quite amazed when the Foreigner asked to drink his fill. After all, the Jews, like the current Old Believers, considered it unacceptable to share a vessel with others not of their faith. In answer, the Stranger said that He could give her "living water," and if she drank it, she would never again experience thirst.

The simple women understood these words literally.

"Sir," she said, "give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."

"Go, call your husband, and come here."

"I have no husband."

"You are right in saying, 'I have no husband;' for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly."

The Samaritan woman understood that the sad story of her life was known to the Man with whom she spoke. Just then it occurred to her to ask Him a question about an old argument between the Samaritans and Jews.

"Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."

"Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

"I know that Messiah is coming," she answered, "when He comes, He will show us all things."

"I Who speak to you am He," said Jesus.

At that moment, the disciples came to the well. They were stunned to see that the Teacher was having a discussion with a Samaritan woman. She, most anxious, hurried into the city to tell her compatriots of her meeting.

"Rabbi, eat," proposed the disciples.

"I have food to eat of which you do not know."

They looked around. Who could have fed Him in this inhospitable place? But they were even more amazed when they discovered that He had first spoken directly of Himself as the Messiah not to them, but to this simple woman, a harlot and a heretic, and that He had initiated her into the essence of the eternal religion of the Spirit...

For Socrates, a woman was simply an obtuse, importunate being, and Buddha did not even allow his followers to look at women. In the pre-Christian world, women most often remained silent slaves, whose lives were limited by exhausting work and domestic chores. It is no accident that in one Jewish prayer were the words, "I thank you, God, that you did not make me a woman. . . "

Christ returned to women that human dignity which had been taken from them, as well as the right to have spiritual needs. Henceforth, their place was not only in the family circle. Thus among the closest disciples of Christ we see more than a few women, predominantly Galilean.

The Gospels retained the names of some of them: there was Mary the Magdalene, whom the Lord healed from "seven demons;" Salome, the mother of John and James; Mary, Cleo's daughter and sister of the Virgin Mary; Joanna, wife of Chuza, Antipas' house warden. Those of them with the most means provided support to the small community.

However, Christ did not want their role to be limited to that,

During His visit to Jerusalem, He became close to the family of a certain Eleazar, or Lazarus, who lived near the city in the town Bethany with his sisters Martha and Mary. The Teacher loved their home; under their roof He not infrequently found rest. Once, when He came to them, Martha became quite distracted with the demands of hospitality, while Mary sat at the Teacher's feet, in order to hear His words. Seeing this, the older sister turned to Him:

"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."

"Martha, Martha," answered Jesus, "you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."

It is instructive to observe that even Jesus' opponents, although they saw Him surrounded by women, did not dare to slander Him. This is one of the most stunning elements in the Gospel. "He Who had subdued the wind and the sea," wrote Francois Mauriac, "had the power to enthrone great peace in people's hearts. He stilled the nascent storms of the hearts, for otherwise people would have worshiped Him not as the Son of God, but as a man among men."

gkmary.jpg (27281 bytes)As a result, when the hour of trial came, the first female Christians did not desert the Lord, as did other disciples. They were on Golgotha at the moment of His death, took the Teacher's body to the place of burial, and the Paschal mystery was first revealed to them....

The Gospel broke down the walls which had separated people from long ago. The Gospel revealed to everyone the path to Christ's Kingdom, to those who kept the observances of the Law and those who did not know them, to Jews and foreigners, to men and women. In that kingdom, nations, social classes, gender, and age became of secondary importance.

Considering this miracle, the apostle Paul exclaimed,

"Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all."

The Old and the New[2]

Many generations of Jewish theologians attempted to define exactly the number of commandments contained in the Torah, but some of them supposed that there were commandments which expressed the very foundation of the faith. Thus one of the scribes decided to ascertain the opinion of Jesus and thus get a clear idea of the views of the Galilean Teacher.

"Teacher," he asked, "which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

"The greatest is," answered Christ, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God, and love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the second: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

This is the breathtaking height to which Christ calls men.

The law considered only one's tribesmen and co-religionists to be one's "neighbors." But Christ did not limit our understanding of the term with such narrow boundaries. When a scribe asked Him, "Who is my neighbor?" in place of an answer, He told of a Jew, ambushed by thieves. Weakened by his wounds, he lay on the side of the road and watched bitterly as a priest and temple servant indifferently strode past him. Least of all did he expect sympathy from a Samaritan who rode by after them. Could this foreigner and heretic really be better than the priest and the Levite?

But this one stopped, and not asking about anything, helped the suffering man: he bound up his wounds, took him on his mule to a hotel and paid for him in advance.

"Which of these three," asked Jesus of the scribe, "do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"

"The one who showed mercy on him," the scribe had to answer.

"Go and do likewise."

Christ got the scribe himself to come to the conclusion that one's "brother" or "neighbor" could be any person.

He also gradually brought His followers to a new view of the heathen, one that was unusual for them. Thus, He did not hide His joy when He discovered the Greeks were seeking an audience with Him, and on the eve of His sufferings Christ said that His Gospel must be "preached as a testimony to all peoples."

When a Roman, an officer of the garrison at Capernaum, asking Christ to heal his servant, said that but one of His words would suffice, Christ observed, "Not even in Israel have I found such faith," and then added, "I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness." These words sounded a challenge to those who considered only Israelites worthy of God's love.

The rejection of "outsiders," no matter how we dress it up, is an instinct which people can only overcome with the very greatest effort. The Gospel unequivocally calls us to fight against national exclusiveness, and in that manner to continue the preaching of Amos, and John the Baptist.

Christ's Peerless Personality

We should not be surprised that there are no images of Christ by his contemporaries. After all we have no accurate portraits of Buddha, Zarathustra, Pythagoras, or the majority of other religious founders, and in Judea in general it was not customary to draw portraits of people.

The first Christians did not retain a memory of Jesus' physical features; more than anything else the spiritual visage of the Son of Man was dear to them. "Even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view," said the apostle Paul, "we regard Him thus no longer."

The earliest frescoes where Christ's Face is represented as it was definitively established in ecclesiastical art are from the second or third century. It is difficult to say to what extent this image is tied to oral tradition. But in any case, the Teacher, having crossed many times under the sultry sun of Palestine, Whose hands knew hard physical labor, is hardly similar to the Christ of the Italian masters. He did not wear an ancient toga, but the simple clothing of the Galileans, a long striped tunic and an outer cloak; His head was probably always covered with a white scarf with a wool fastener.

In Russian art of the 19th century the most accurate depiction of the external appearance of Christ is that of Polenov, but his pictures do not communicate the spiritual power that came from the Son of Man.

But it was exactly that power that the Evangelists rendered. In their stories one feels the subduing effect of Christ on the most different people. He captured the hearts of His future Apostles almost as fast as lightning. The temple guards who were sent to detain the Nazarene could not fulfill their order, shaken as they were by His preaching. There was something in Him that forced even His enemies to speak with Him respectfully. The scribes called Him Rabbi, "Teacher." For Pilate, one look and a few of Christ's words commanded--against his will--a secret respect.

A certain anxious mystery, an inexplicable attractiveness, created around Him an atmosphere of love, joy, and faith. But not infrequently the disciples around Jesus were seized by a sacred shiver, almost fear, as from proximity to the Incomprehensible. With this, there was nothing of a pagan priest in Him, nothing bombastic. He did not consider it below Himself to come to a wedding or share the holiday meal with publicans in Matthew's house, to visit the Pharisee Simon, Lazarus.

Less than anything was He similar to an aloof ascetic or a gloomy dogmatist. The self-righteous said of Him, "Here is a man who loves to eat and drink wine."

There is a story that a medieval monk drove past a picturesque lake and did not even notice it. Jesus was not that way. Not even mundane inconsequentialities slipped from His gaze; He was at home with people.

The evangelists paint Christ as profoundly human. On His eyes were seen tears; He was seen to mourn, to be amazed, to rejoice, to embrace children, to admire flowers. His very speech breathes forbearance for the weaknesses of man, but He never slackened His requirements. He could speak with tender goodness and could be strict, even sharp. Occasionally bitter irony flickered in His words ("they strain at a gnat and swallow a camel"). Usually mild and patient, Jesus was merciless to hypocrites; he expelled merchants from the temple, shamed Herod Antipas and lawyers, reproached His disciples for lack of faith.

He was peaceful and constrained, but was sometimes seized by holy wrath. Nonetheless He was a stranger to internal discord. Christ always remained Himself. With the exception of certain tragic moments, clarity of spirit never left Christ. Being in the thick of mortal life, it was as if at the same time He was in another world, in solitude with the Father. Those close to Him saw in Him a Man Who desired only one thing, "to do the will of Him Who sent (Him)."

Rublev's "Savior"

Christ was far from morbid exaltation, from the frantic fanaticism characteristic of many zealots and founders of religions. An illuminating sobriety was one of the chief traits of His character. When He spoke about unusual things, when He called people to difficult deeds and bravery, He did it without false pathos and strain. He could converse simply with people at the well or at the holiday meal, and He could pronounce words that shook everyone--"I am the Bread of life." He spoke of trials and struggle, and He carried light everywhere, blessing and transforming life.

Writers have never managed to create a persuasive portrait of a hero if the portrait lacked even the hint of inadequacy. The Evangelists constitute an exception, and not because they were matchless masters of words, but because they were describing a peerless Personality.

It is impossible not to agree with Rousseau, who stated that it would not be possible to think up the Gospel story. According to Goethe, "All four Gospels are authentic, because on all four lies the reflection of that spiritual height, whose source was the personality of Christ and which is more divine than anything else on the earth."

In contrast to the recluses of Qumr'an, Jesus did not turn from the world, did not hide spiritual treasures from it, but gave them generously to people. "When," he said, "men light a candle, they do not put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it provides light to all in the house." The Word of God had to be "preached on the rooftops," for that was His will.

Ancient Hebrew had by that time become a literary language. The Aramaic dialect was commonly used for conversation. Christ used this dialect in His discussions with the people. The Aramaic words and expressions which are preserved in the New Testament testify of this.

The Commandment To Love

The evil with which man comes into the closest contact lives in man himself: from one side, the desire to be master, the penchant for coercion and violence; from the other side, a blind rebelliousness which seeks self-affirmation and limitless range for instinct. These demons lie at the bottom of our souls, ready at any moment to break through to the surface.

They are fed by the sense of one's own "I" as the only center which has value. The dilution of "I" in the elements of society, it would seem, places limits on the rebellion of the individual, but in doing so it levels and erases the personality. The exit from this dead end was given in the Biblical commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself." It calls us to struggle against our bestially egocentric origins, the struggle for the recognition of the value of another "I," the struggle which should create a higher man, a "new creation."

Only Love is capable of defeating Satan.

Let much which is in the world surrounding man, and even in man himself, fight against the commandment of love, people will find the power for its fulfillment with Him Who Himself is Love, with Him Who was revealed in the Gospel of Christ as the merciful Father.

Genuine faith is inseparable from humaneness. People who forget about this are similar to the builders who built the house without a foundation, directly on the sand. Such a building is fated to fall at the first storm.

Christ retained the Decalogue as the foundation of morality. "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments," He said to the rich young man. In addition, He approved of Hillel's principle, "Do not do to another what is not pleasant to you," although He attached to this utterance a sense of greater activity and efficacy. "So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."

The Gospel is far from a negative moralism with a formal schema of a "charity" which leads only to prohibitions. Saint Augustine wrote, "Love God and then do what you will," i.e., our relations with people flow organically from our faith. He who has known the Father cannot help but love His creation as well. In addition, Christ said directly, "As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." He will judge not by people's "convictions," but by their works. He who serves his neighbor serves God, even if he does not realize it.

So how should disciples of Christ act when they encounter the misdeeds of others?

Many Jewish teachers spoke out against the sin of judging. Christ approved of this teaching completely.

If we are to expect forgiveness from the Lord, we ourselves must learn to forgive. Does the man act well who, having received forgiveness of a large debt from the king, himself turns out to be a merciless creditor and throws his fellow man in debtors' prison?

At the appearance of weakness on the part of our neighbor we ought not to pass sentence, but rather sympathize, remembering our own sinfulness. "Judge not," warns Jesus, "that you be not judged, for with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

The Pharisees had become accustomed to looking down from on high on "those ignorant of the law." The word, Am-Khaarets —"bumpkin" —was for them synonymous with "sinner." They wanted to have nothing in common with such a man. They were not allowed to pray with him, to sit at the table together, even to feed him in case of need. "The ignorant do not fear sin; am-khaarets cannot be righteous," said the learned men.

Jesus was their complete opposite in this respect. He more often preferred to deal with simple people. In addition, all those who were cast out, all the pariahs of society, found in Him a frien = Christ's Peerless Personality =d and protector. Publicans, who were not recognized as people, and women of the street were not infrequently among those who surrounded Him. This shocked the respectable scribes who were parading their righteousness. Hearing their reprimands, Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Christ placed sincere repentance above the serenity of those who considered themselves pleasing to God. Once He told the story of two people, praying in the temple. One, an honorable Pharisee, thanked God that he "was not like other people," fasted frequently, made sacrifice in the temple, and "was not like this publican." But the publican stood far away, not daring to raise his eyes, beat his chest and repeated, grief-stricken, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." "I tell you," Christ concluded the parable, "this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

However, repentance must not be limited to words.

John the Baptist did not speak in vain when he spoke of the "fruits of repentance." And once again Christ introduced an example from dailylife. "A man had two children, and he went to the first one and said, 'My child, go today and work in the vineyard.' He answered,'l will go, sir,'and did not go. He went to the second and said the same thing. And this one answered, 'I do not want to go,' and afterwards repented and went. Which of these fulfilled the will of the father?"

When Jesus visited Matthew's house, where his publican friends gathered, this provoked an explosion of indignation. Reproaches poured down on the Teacher's head. How could He sit at the table with such personages? However, Jesus once again reminded them that every soul deserves concern and sympathy. Those who forget this are like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, who did not rejoice in the return of the wanderer.

Gathering to Himself sinners, Christ wanted to stir up in them repentance and thirst for a new life. Not infrequently His goodness and trust did genuine miracles.

Once the Teacher was going through Jericho. A multitude of people met Him at the gates of the city. All wanted Jesus to stop in their home. One of the Jerichites, by the name of Zacchaeus, "chief publican," struggled to push his way through the crowd, hoping to look upon the Teacher, if only with one eye, but his small height hindered him. Then, forgetting etiquette, he ran forward and clambered up a tree which the Lord was to walk past.

Jesus did in fact approach this spot and, lifting his eyes, noticed the little man sitting in the fig tree. "Zacchaeus," Jesus said unexpectedly, "come down quickly! I must be with you today"

Forgetting himself for joy, the publican ran home to meet the Lord, and those who were around began to murmur, "He stopped at the home of such a sinful man!" But the Teacher's step had its effect.

"Lord," said Zacchaeus as he met Him, "Half of what I have I give to the needy, and if I have required something of someone unrighteously, I will provide quadruple compensation."

"Now salvation has come to this house," answered Christ, "because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to find and save those who had perished."
  1. Son of Man, pp. 72–74
  2. Son of Man, pp. 62–67