It's easy for us to be critical of each other. We are often slaves to our perceptions. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities we wrestle against in private are easy to spot in other people. Like looking in a mirror, we don't always like what we see reflected back at ourselves from our neighbors. So we judge them. We accuse them of weakness. We pity them. We dismiss them as just another member of the common herd. But what we're really doing is transferring our private shame onto someone else.
Even men and women we consider extraordinary don't get a pass. Instead, since they're so great, and we allow ourselves to be made to feel mediocre by them, we tear them down. The greater the person, the smaller we try to make them. But, no matter how great or small, anyone we encounter is an opportunity to justify our existence, and we exploit them to find much-needed purpose in life.
The reason we do this is that we don't know how to be human. We devote most of our lives to figuring out for ourselves what it means to be a human being. We work on "finding ourselves," as it's often called in therapeutic circles, amid millions of others who are doing the same. But who is responsible for our lives? Who is directing events? What if we missed our calling in life? How are we supposed to realize our true potential?
These questions can be dehumanizing since we usually locate individual identity and meaning by comparing ourselves to others. That's why it's so natural for us to tear others down. We all want to be the best version of ourselves. We want to become the best person possible. But, in pursuit of these objectives, we make bad choices. We suffer disappointment. Regret and guilt are constant reminders that we have fallen short of our goals again and again. To not lose hope, we create loopholes:
"We're only human, after all."
"It's all about progress, not perfection."
"Learn to forgive yourself."
"At least I'm doing better than them."
At best, we manage a conditional absolution.
But these loopholes, these personal absolutions, don't actually help us forgive ourselves. We can't forgive others we barely know for reminding us of our failures and shortcomings, so how are we supposed to forgive ourselves when we have to live with ourselves twenty-four seven?
At best, we manage a conditional absolution. We force ourselves to tolerate the things we recognize in other people that we hate about ourselves. We give ourselves rules to live by that we use to form an identity. We adopt principles that help us order our days in a way that's meaningful to us. But it's all in service to avoid the truth about ourselves: we don't know who we're supposed to be.
But God uses this to bring us to the truth. There is great wisdom to be had amid our suffering to discover our humanity. It hurts to be a human being. The pain increases as we exhaust the possibility that we can fix the problems that afflict us. It drives us to find distractions, usually by comparing our lives to family and friends, celebrities, professional athletes, and whoever is available at the moment. There is no one so great or small that we won't use them to distract ourselves from the pain of living, except for Jesus. We just can't seem to get past the Church's witness to the truth about Jesus' suffering and death.
Jesus doesn't allow us to distract ourselves at his expense. Instead, his suffering claims our pain. His public shaming shines a light on our private shame. His cry of dereliction puts words into our mouths. His death encapsulates our humanity. Everything about Jesus' cross holds our attention, like a man who can't look away from his reflection in a mirror.
Jesus' Calvary passion gives us a clear picture of our humanity. He is the Son of God, who takes his stand for all of us. Just as he suffers for us in every way, he can also sympathize with us in every way. No one is comparable to Jesus. No one else can claim he is the Christ because no one has suffered, died, and gone through hell to return from the dead and say, "Be at peace."
Jesus Christ is our peace because he doesn't criticize us. He declares us freed from our perceptions to accept the truth about ourselves. In his nail-marked hands, we see our weaknesses and vulnerabilities crucified. Like looking in a mirror, what we see reflected back at ourselves from Calvary's cross is judgment directed away from us onto Jesus. All our weaknesses. Everything pitiable about us. All our shame and guilt are transferred onto Christ, and in their place, Jesus' righteousness, innocence, and blessedness are imputed to us. In Christ, our true humanity is restored, and we are set free to live as beloved children of God.