St Aelred of Rievaulx

Hebrews 2:14-18; Psalm 104:1-4,6-9; Mark 1:29-39

Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, Christ too shared equally in it, so that by his death he could take away all the power of the devil, who had power over death, and set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it was not the angels that he took to himself; he took to himself descent from Abraham. It was essential that he should in this way become completely like his brothers so that he could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest of God’s religion, able to atone for human sins. That is, because he has himself been through temptation he is able to help others who are tempted.

Hebrews 2.14-18

. . .

Yes, but… My first reaction to the suggestion that Jesus faced temptation in the way that I do is, ‘surely not!’ If he was fully God as well as fully human, was it even possible for him to sin? St Gregory Nazianzus (and others) have insisted he was like us in all things except sin: the question is, what does ‘except sin’ mean?

Here’s where my training and practice in academic theology intersect with my practice of Christian faith. I can see myself, teaching on the Incarnation, assuming that we all know what St Gregory means: Christ Jesus is like us, but without the stain of original sin. He doesn’t need to be baptized (as we heard on Sunday), for he has no sin to be washed away. So far, so good. But how, then, can he help me? I understand perfectly what it means to say ‘we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves’. The fact that St Paul himself confesses (in Romans 7) that he struggles to do the good, and fails, reassures me that I am not alone. St Paul understands, but how can Jesus understand that aspect of my humanity?

I realize I don’t believe it. Just flatly don’t believe it. Because a part of what we experience in sinful human nature is that bondage, the slavery to sin that makes the fall into temptation a habit of sinning. The one-off temptation to do something we clearly recognize is wrong, I am happy to admit that Jesus could understand. But the temptation to do something we’ve realized is wrong only after making a habit of it? That seems to me to be another matter entirely. And I don’t have any answers, only questions and more questions. I hope the writer of Hebrews is right, and there is help for us, especially those of us blundering along in absolute darkness with about as much hope of resisting the temptation to grab hold of something to guide us as a moth has of resisting the porch light.

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