It is well known by all that the basic foundation of the Christian faith which distinguishes it from other professions of faith, including that one from which it is derived (Judaism), is the belief that God has incarnated in the history of mankind, fully assuming human nature , except sin. Even though I have not said anything new up to now, this statement “God has incarnated in history” has a depth that just few people reflect on. What, in fact, is to say that God has incarnated, that he became “truly man”? The implications of this statement must be analyzed in an honest and deep way so that we do not run the risk of professing by mouth a faith that in practice does not tell us great things, or the opposite that is as dangerous as the previous one: witnessing even without direct intention , an idea of Jesus that betrays the very notion of incarnation, so dear to New Testament theology and to the Christian faith as a whole.
Jesus, in his historical reality, is one who takes the human form and lives fully in the human way without, however, sinning. Having this premise as a basis, I can, without any fear, compare him to my own person (excluding, of course, my sinful reality). In this way, some conclusions seem timely and fair to draw when I compare the historical Jesus to myself.
Five minutes of conversation with any unknown person and he/she will have some idea of the region from which I came (my accent condemns me). If such a person knows any of my relatives, it is very likely that he will immediately relate us as belonging to the same family: “Is not this the son of Ms. Conceição? He speaks softly and meekly just like her, makes me want to sleep.” In fact, this example illustrates well the point I want to arrive. The human being, when speaking, carries in his/her message the most diverse possible elements related to the culture in which he/she is inserted, the environment in which he/she was created and educated and the family and social values cultivated during one’s life.
With Jesus it can not have been different since, in fact, we agree that he has been incarnated as a real man. The way Jesus preaches, his way of behaving, his values are directly related to what he has learned in life. Jesus’ own message is not the result of the enlightenment of a God-man who, because of the privilege of his divine nature, communicates the saving plan of God without existing an intrinsic dependence on the revelation previously given to the people of Israel. In fact, the events of the life of Christ occur according to what is written in the Torah (Cf. Mt 21:4, Mk 1:2, 14:21, etc.). Indeed, a more in-depth study of the Jewish tradition of the time of Jesus elucidates the frequent similarities of Jesus’ teaching with those of other “teachers” of his time, which suggests the evident influence Jesus receives from his contemporaries.
The human incarnation of the Son of God presupposes a deep relationship with the environment, with the culture and values perpetrated by the society of his time, to the point of being intimately influenced by such elements from a behavioral, psychological and spiritual point of view. Any proposal that denies this reality inevitably suggests that the incarnation would merely be a personification by which God “fancy” himself to be human, perhaps not to scandalize mankind with his omniscience, omnipotence, and other attributes of his divinity. This perspective of a God who assumes only the “appearance” of a human being has long been dismissed by the Church and condemned as heresy after being defended by a part of the Christians of the first centuries.
Some hesitate to take up the position that the Son of God drank deeply from the tradition of his people and demonstrated this through his teaching. This fear, to me, may be due to one of the following causes: the pure ignorance of the socio-cultural-religious reality of Jesus’ time; or it may also be a prevention against the risk of the eventual consequent supposition that the event Christ brought nothing extraordinary into the history of salvation. This is a misconception which many theologians of the twentieth century and even today actually commit.
However, the full understanding of the implications (discussed above) of what the incarnation of Jesus actually means should not necessarily lead one to the false conclusion that Jesus brought nothing new. It is necessary to remember, above all, that what is most extraordinary in Christ is his own divine nature, since, unlike the prophet, Jesus is not only the one who proclaims the Good News, but he is himself the Good News, for in Jesus ““we have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets”(Jn 1:45). It is possible to keep this conviction in mind without, however, denying the profound humanity of Jesus and its implications, that is, the capacity to have his ministry deeply enriched by his historical, cultural and religious context.
by Br. Joel Moreira, NDS.