1. THE EMOTIONALLY-SPIRITUAL LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52)
Jesus Christ had a quality of life that was far from the ordinary. He lived and enjoyed life to the full and that was why he had the conviction to invite ordinary men who were at the lowest rungs of life to join him. His desire was to lift them up from the lowest point to a higher level of existence and wholeness. Mere fishermen and commoners moved from the point of obscurity to a level of social influence and significance. From crude villagers and countrymen, they became transformed to the point that they could stand side by side with rulers, policy makers, business leaders and men of influence in the major cities of their time without much education.
Something about Jesus rubbed off on them. Their 3 years continuous interaction with Jesus Christ changed and transformed them from social misfits to emotionally well-adjusted individuals. For instance, Simon Peter moved from being an emotionally-unstable, fragile, brash and irrational individual to a typology of rock; stable, dependable, wise and urbane person. The self-centered and conceited John whose temper tantrums earned him the nickname, Son of Thunder’ transformed into an epitome of love and kindness. Paul’s encounter changed his personality such that his perspective changed from a self-seeking and politically-ambitious individual to a caring, loving and people-centered person. In essence, their spiritual maturity impacted their social and emotional life positively to make them well balanced individuals.
Luke recapped the growth and developmental life of Jesus in one short sentence in Luke 2 verse 52. His was a 4-dimensional life that included mental, physical, spiritual and social development. His mental acuity was obvious as a smart kid with an exceptionally high IQ which amazed intellectual giants and theologians of his day. He was athletically well-built from the physical rigors of sawing and chiseling wood like most carpenters we know. God testified to being pleased with him which speaks of his spiritual maturity. Of major interest to our discourse is his social and emotional development as he was said to have favor with men. It is this dimension of his ‘favor with men’ that majority of Christians seem to battle with since we’ve not had much difficulties developing mentally, physically and mentally. Our skewed social development has to a large extent impeded our spiritual growth and maturity.
Our emotional maturity or lack of it is expressed and brought to the fore in our day-to-day interactions with fellow Christians, family members, friends and colleagues at work. An honest self-assessment will reveal to an embarrassing degree how many of us are faring poorly in our social interactions with others. Oftentimes our gospel witness is weakened by the uncouthly and uncaring way we treat others or because of our desire to distinguish ourselves and stand out as Christians. But a closer look at the social and relationship life of Jesus Christ shows that there was no fragmentation of sorts in his daily life. His spiritual life didn’t make him live as a social misfit. He was normal enough to make both saint and sinner feel at home around him.
He was no social recluse, if not he would not have been called a ‘glutton, winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ ( Luke 7:34). He attended dinners hosted by men like Zaccheus that most Christians would banish from their social circles for life. But for accepting to visit him, the corrupt tax officer made a pledge of restitution which he redeemed honorably. What if Jesus had turned down the invite? That precious soul may not have experienced the redemption that comes with the visitation of the Master to his home where his heart was bared open to receive salvation.
At another dinner hosted by a Pharisee, a prostitute was so touched that she cried for her sins at the feet of Jesus Christ, but not without planting ‘wet kisses’ on him to the chagrin of his host. Rather than upbraid her, he defended her actions without tacitly supporting her unbiblical lifestyle. At the risk of denting his reputation as the most-respected spiritual leader of his time, he brazenly defended another prostitute who was ‘caught in the act’ by equally guilty men. Both ‘commercial sex workers’ made a volte-face and became transformed ladies after those close encounters with Jesus. It was the same respectful, empathic and non-condemning way that he treated the sexually immoral women at the Samarian Well that won over the heart of the lady, and made her become a proponent of the gospel.
He experienced the highs and lows of emotions yet was at home with them. He acknowledged, accepted and processed them properly accordingly such that he expressed the emotion appropriate for each moment or occasion in question. Jesus had mastery and control over his emotions and his social interactions and relationships with others. He was never a victim of his emotions or caught napping by any means. He expressed anger when he confronted people who desecrated God’s temple but showed compassion and empathy when he encountered people who were sick and needy. When the tax officers tried to embarrass him, he kept his cool and answered without lashing back at them. Though he was courteous and respectful of others, he was frank enough to speak the truth and confront the hypocrisy of those in authority without trying to sound ‘politically correct’.
There was no obvious ambiguity in the way he treated his disciples and non-followers and unbelievers. When Peter tried to earn his favors through sycophancy, he upbraided Peter openly for others to learn a lesson. When John’s anger against those who rejected Jesus’ message of salvation raged, he corrected his beloved disciple and showed him a better way of expressing love over and against hatred. When Thomas expressed doubt over his crucifixion, Jesus didn’t condemn him but painted the merits of belief over unbelief in the life of a believer. He commended the expression of faith by men and women who were not his disciples, and even non-Jews. He praised the widow for giving her last coin rather than praise the big time givers and money bags. He spoke truth without caring whose ox was gored because he was at home with who he felt and thought he was.
Our emotional confusion often arises from the conflict between who we are and how we want to be perceived by others. But there was no obvious disconnect between who Jesus knew he was and how others perceived him. He was at peace with himself irrespective of what feedbacks he got from people on how they perceived him. Hence he could express the right emotions without a care. He experienced and expressed joy and gladness when he was happy. When sorrow and sadness overwhelmed him, he was not afraid or embarrassed. When he was betrayed and abandoned by his family and disciples, he experienced the emotion of loneliness and helplessness. When his town folks rejected his message, he was saddened and didn’t fail to express his regret and sorrow for them knowing the implications and spiritual consequences. His disciples were rather embarrassed to allow children play around him but he was at home with the playful and often mischievous kids... And when his close buddy Lazarus died an untimely death, he wept openly without acting like a stoic and emotionless macho man, which we often feign to be. When he was dying of thirst and extreme dehydration, he was not ashamed to ask for a drink and he indeed drank the vinegar that was offered him. How could he accept to drink and alcoholic beverage when water was the religiously-accepted drink!
Notwithstanding, he was on top of his emotions and didn’t allow how he felt to becloud how he responded to others. Though he felt the pain of denial and abandonment by his disciples especially Peter, he was quick to forgive and show unconditional love to Peter which helped to rebuild the latter’s self-confidence. This is a lesson for many of us who carry about the pain of betrayal by our loved ones and trusted friends. He didn’t allow negative feelings to fester and seethe within his heart whenever he was wronged or mistreated by others. Rather he allowed biblical reason to guide the expression of the emotions he felt in the depths of his being.
The secret of this balanced emotional life is his understanding of God’s unwavering love for him. He showed and expressed love freely and without inhibitions because he had received an overdose of divine love. Beyond the divine knowledge he impacted on those that crossed his path and the miracles he performed, it was the unfeigned love that he showed that won their hearts over. Rather than accept the rational option of sending the hungry crowd away due to the financial and logistical burden, he had compassion on them and had to find a creative way of feeding all of them. He was emotionally-sensitive to the needs of those that crossed his path daily and tried to reach out to them in a most loving way that made them know he truly cared for them. He thus expects his disciples and those who believe and profess faith in him to also be characterized by a life of love evidenced by the kind way they treat others irrespective of religious, political or ideological affiliations.
One barrier to our progression in our spiritual maturity and expression of unconditional love is the syndrome called Emotional Brokenness which we all have in varying degrees. Some of the emotional baggage we carry are either a result of our own faulty thought patterns and mindsets, or as a result of misdeeds and wrongs done against us by others. Some are from harrowing experiences of hurt, betrayal, broken trust, unrequited or spurned love, dismal past failures, mistakes of judgments, unavoidable life tragedies and adversities etc. Jesus promises to ‘heal the broken hearted’ and ‘pour the oil of joy on the heart of those that mourn’, and ‘give rest to those who are weary and heavy-laden’ with loads of worry and those emotional burdens we carry about in life. Hence we can affirm that ‘we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrew 4:15).