Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr

Today, we celebrate Irenaeus of Lyons, rightly celebrated for his teaching concerning the fleshy, concrete reality of Jesus Christ. Many are quick to quote Irenaeus’ famous words, “the glory of God is the living man,” but often leave out the second half of Irenaeus’ sentence: “and the life of man is the vision of God” (Against the Heresies, IV 20.7). For Irenaeus, who Jesus Christ is—true God and true man—was of great importance, not only to help Christians to understand the greatness of God, but the greatness of man as well. Reflecting on the last line of today’s gospel can help us to begin to get a sense of how important this is. After Jesus rebukes the wind and the sea, leading to great calm, the disciples ask, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?” (Mt 8:27). It might be easy for us to answer the question by saying, “well, he’s no man at all, since a man cannot do these things; he must be god.” This answer is a logical one; it is also wrong. Jesus is truly a man. He is also God. But the rub is this: as man, Jesus lives the life of the uncreated, eternally begotten Son of the Father. Jesus lives his divine life fully in his life of a man. He does not fit part of his divinity into his human life, leaving the rest of it somewhere else. Jesus is truly God and truly man. But what wonder is this! Our human nature is capable of bearing the divine life without compromise! How great is this human nature that God offers us! And what a wondrous God who can do such a thing! Only a God full of love, a God who is love would ever do it. This leads us back to one of Irenaeus’ central insights: once God takes on human flesh in the Son for our sake (we call this the “incarnation”) it is through the very fleshiness of our human existence that we live out the divine life that God offers us through the Son, because that is where the Son lives out that life for us. It is not in the ideal reality of some philosophical or spiritual utopia far removed from the messiness of this world where we find God, but rather where he comes to us and offers us the divine life (which we call “grace”) in our struggles to love the One who gave his life for us and love our neighbor as he has loved us. Jesus delights in the world! He is the living man, whose life is the vision of God. But he does not shield himself from the fallenness of the world; rather he reveals the divine life offered to us to be love by even taking upon himself a cost that he had no obligation to bear: death on a cross. But in that death is life, and the promise that, with God’s help, even in our fleshy existence, so long as we are willing to follow Christ to the cross, sin and evil will not triumph, but only that divine love that God never ceases to offer us through our human lives.

June 28th, 2016