“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
I have often wondered what Jesus means by this statement found in the Gospel of John. What is it about his death that draws all men and women to himself? I believe an aspect of this ‘drawing’ lies in an understanding of the Incarnation and its ramifications concerning our salvation. I have understood the Incarnation as the single event of the Logos, or Word, being implanted in the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit with the result being the birth of Jesus. While I believe this to be true, it is incomplete. The Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, IS our salvation. Jesus has come to assume our human nature, and it is in this assumption of all our humanity that our redemption is secured. The Incarnation began with the birth of Jesus but continued throughout his life on earth. Jesus takes on our flesh to experience everything we experience and to be tempted in all the ways we are tempted. He does this to identify with us, to become one of us, and by his divine nature to find and restore “that which was lost.”
He comes to redeem all of our human nature. However, there is one aspect common to all humankind that He did not experience fully until his death on the cross. This is the state of despair. To be human is to despair and, as Albert Camus notes, “for God to be a man, he must despair.” We have all felt abandoned by God but Jesus did not experience this until Gethsemane and the cross. By drinking the cup of affliction and despair he completed the process of the Incarnation and of our redemption. He gained knowledge of the forsakenness and lostness we all feel at times. Recall Jesus’ baptism. What a wonderful moment! Jesus, living to please the Father, receives the affirmation “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” There was no moment in Jesus’ earthly life when He pleased the Father more than when He willingly went to the cross. And yet, there is no vocal affirmation from God. No words of approval or comfort. Only silence from the Father and the boisterous ridicule of men. It is on the cross that Jesus becomes fully human, and likewise, it is on the cross that we become fully divine.
What do we learn from Jesus as he encounters despair? We can learn much from his responses. First, he cries out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Afterwards he says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” In his despair, He does not give up hope and faith in God but remembers his Father’s goodness. He quotes from the Psalms. The importance of this cannot be overstated. He has stored up words of God in his memory and He chooses to remember them and utter them during his forsakenness. This is one way lectio divina, committing Scripture to memory, and liturgical prayers bear fruit in us. We must have a reservoir of words of truth stored in our memory for times such as these in which we find ourselves now. In addition to reciting true words, Jesus surrenders his spirit to the Father. He lets go knowing his Father’s hands are good and trustworthy. Throughout certain days I will repeat “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” It is a helpful reminder that even in times of distance and darkness I can know that Christ is with me and the Father is doing his work. We must allow ourselves to be drawn to Christ. We must consent. One way is to not fight and struggle during our moments or years of despair but to abandon our understanding and commit our spirits into the loving hands of God. It is darkness. It is a death. However, this is the hidden and obscure place where God secretly works in our souls to fully effect our union in Him. It is here, a place that resembles nowhere, that we become participants in a rebirth–a birth not of flesh but of God.