Jesus probably loved birds.

Don’t you think?

Because lots of people love birds.

Jesus seems like he would have been one of those people.
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I was startled into thinking of this yesterday.

The author of a book I’m reading (James Martin, SJ, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone) quotes Pope Francis talking about how Jesus “was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder,” and inviting others into contemplation of the beauty of creation. And then says “it had never occurred to me that Jesus enjoyed creation.” [1]

And I realized, it had never occurred to me, either. And then I thought, “Jesus liked birds.”

This made me smile. And weep.

We forget, sometimes, in our determination to focus on Christ’s divinity and universality and soteriological significance and all of that, what it must have meant that Jesus was human.

Jesus would have been like us, really, in utterly concrete, particular ways.

He would have had to put up with hot weather and the sun getting in his eyes, and occasionally running out of water along the way to wherever he was walking, and sore muscles and hangnails and stubbed toes and splinters, and tiresome conversations and stupid comments that show that people haven’t understood a word you’ve said. He would surely have appreciated kindness and enjoyed friendship and felt that little surge of happiness when he recognized people he knew and hadn’t seen for a while coming down the road toward him. He would have had food he liked, maybe olives or hummus or good fresh bread. He probably liked drinking really cold spring water. And dark red wine.

I think he would have liked birds.
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As usual, context is everything. Our pastor has had us “focusing on the senses” and “sensing God” all through Lent, meditating on art and “awakening our senses” to it. Since I live in my head most of the time, this exercise has had an outsized effect on me.

Then, yesterday, she had assembled depictions of scene after scene of the passion week, evocative images of the human Jesus in this or that familiar moment from this story the Church has been telling forever. Some other year I might have been inclined to pigeonhole all this sensory emphasis as being about “feeling,” the opposite of “thinking.” But just Saturday evening, in a different book, I’d read this:

We think as we do roughly because of the kind of bodies we have, as Thomas Aquinas noted. Reason is authentically rational only when it is rooted in what lies beyond itself. [2]

Furthermore,

Christian faith … is not about moral uplift, political unity or aesthetic charm. Nor does it start from the portentous vagueness of some ‘infinite responsibility’. It starts from a crucified body. [3]

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Those of us in the humanities talk a lot about “the universal in the particular.” We justify our existence, and our academic departments, by reminding people over and over that particular human stories convey universal human truths. Some better than others, arguably. Most folks will press harder for the value of reading Shakespeare or the Bible than for the value of reading great aunt Pittypat’s vacation scrapbook. Although in these days of social history and found art, great aunt Pittypat would have her advocates, too.

Jesus’s story is preeminently one of those particularly human universally significant stories.

Whatever else it is. Because its genuine humanity actually implies nothing about its else-ness. And yet all too often, the instant someone says a real word about the “full humanity,” we feel compelled to rush past that real human word to get to the “full divinity” as fast as we can.

As if we can’t stand to stop and really think about, and therefor feel, the fullness of that real humanity, and what that must have meant, concretely, particularly.

Especially this week of all weeks.

To let it occur to us, for instance, that Jesus probably loved birds.
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NOTES

[1] Martin, James, SJ. Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone. HarperOne, 2021. 284-5.

[2] Eagleton, Terry. Culture and the Death of God. Yale University Press, 2014. 203.

[3] Ibid., 206.
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Image: “Christ in the Garden,” Paul Gauguin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons