One of the fundamental questions at the heart of contemporary Western culture concerns what it means to be a man.
Do men have a place in our culture anymore? How should men act? How can he love and protect those entrusted to his care? How can he air his concerns without them being immediately smacked down because they are different? How can he be faithful to his role as one of two parents—the sole primary educators of their kids? How can he share his anxieties and struggles without diminishing his manhood? How can he find profound happiness, freedom, and real interior peace?
In our first reading Isaiah turns our eyes to the contemplation of the complete and definitive answer to these questions: the co-eternal son of God become man, Jesus Christ. And the first thing we see is, quite simply, that Jesus is a man—that God became a male human being.
There is no nonsense here about concluding that men are superior to women. Given he received his male body from a woman, men and women are clearly equal in dignity. But it clearly proclaims the Creator’s unchangeable decision that men, just like women, have an unalterable place in society as well as in creation for all the rest of eternity.
But the first thing that strikes us from this reading is the appalling treatment of Jesus. Scripture here is shocking: “I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle” (Isa 50:6). This is an abominable treatment of the sacred.
“Every disrespectful lack of love of our neighbour, and every use of the very being God gives us against him has made this image reality.”
The creator is having his flesh torn from his back. His hair pulled out of his head. The Eternal Word is assaulted with the foulest language. Holy and almighty God experiences the slow clammy trickle of other people’s gobs of spit down his face.
What is more important is what this only true “alpha male” does. He waits. He is patient.
Absorbed in the Father. Strengthened by him. And continuing to honour those around him not only with the most sacred respect but with the continuing total gift of himself for them.
For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. The Christ-Man is truly free. No measure of nonsense dumped on him determines his reactions. He remains utterly focussed on loving God and his neighbour: So that I may know how to reply to the wearied. And relying on God’s help to do so: The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults. There is thus no shame in what happens to him: I know I shall not be shamed.
Unshaken in his total and continual love, he channels his interior strength and force into mastering himself so that, truly, he is totally giving himself to God and neighbour. He is a true self-giving brother to all. There is no higher nobility and honour.
The very reason we have this spittle-flecked and belted Jesus before us is the result of our own actions. Every disrespectful lack of love of our neighbour, and every use of the very being God gives us against him has made this image reality.
Each act against our neighbour is against God’s work—which the neighbour is—and against God. Thus “Violence”, says Pope Benedict, “does not build up the kingdom of God, the kingdom of humanity. On the contrary, it is a favourite instrument of the Antichrist, however idealistic it’s motivation may be. It serves, not humanity, but inhumanity.”
Ecce homo—behold the only authentic measure of manhood. We are all guilty of sin and violence against our neighbours in thought, word and deed. Let us let this image of Jesus push us to a gutsy repentance, confession, and determination to do only what God ever does for us—the patient and undeserved gift of ourself to all.