There are many strange and erroneous ideas about Christ’s life and personality out there today. Some people think He was simply a political figure, a revolutionary who fought the Romans. Others think He was, or should have been, a kind of guru or austere holy man, or a carefree hippie. Still others are scandalized by Jesus’ all-too-human feelings and passions, preferring to think of Him more like an emotionless android. Lastly there are those who are enticed by the monastic life who think Christ should have lived a solitary life, cut off from the world. After all, according to Catholic tradition, the contemplative way of life is more perfect than the active life. Shouldn’t Jesus have just retired to the desert or lived tucked away in an isolated community?
None of these notions really understand Who Christ is and the manner in which He lived in the world. In order to understand why Christ lived the way He did, we have to remember why He took flesh to begin with. He took flesh to redeem us from sin. Christ was a person supremely and totally interested in redeeming people, and that meant being with them and living like them. Everything in the life of Christ was directed toward redemption.
First of all, Christ lived among us so that He might make clear the truth. If He had lived enjoying a peaceful retreat in the desert or mountains, He couldn’t have preached the truth to the world. Further, as a good physician of souls He had to seek out the people who needed Him; He couldn’t just wait and expect them to come to Him. Finally, Christ took flesh that we might arrive at God. We live in a civilization formed by Christianity, and so we’re accustomed to the idea of being raised to godliness, but to the people in the time of Christ this would have been unimaginable. Christ went out to the world, then, so that He could give people confidence to approach God: When they saw the conversion of a tax collector or a centurion, the type widely believed to be unsalvageable, it gave others confidence in His love and mercy. Christ associated with men so that He might show them His divinity through His humanity — by preaching and miracles, and by leading a righteous and blameless life.
Now, it is true that the contemplative life is the most perfect life, absolutely speaking, because it reflects the life of heaven. In heaven we will contemplate God perpetually — this is the ultimate and perfect destiny of humanity. The more perfect life in this world, however, is the mixed life of contemplation and action, so that we can take our communion with God and share its fruits with others. We can contemplate God and lead others to contemplate Him, too. St Paul said, strikingly, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).
It is true that Christ did sometimes withdraw to isolated places, but He did this not because He needed to be refreshed in prayer, since He was always in union with the Father, but in order to be an example to those who preach, a reminder that we need to take breaks even from evangelization to feed ourselves spiritually. Similarly, Christ fasted, as we’ve said, not because He needed to fast but as an example of the kind of sacrifice we can make for the Kingdom. And Christ allowed Himself to be tempted not because He had any fear that He couldn’t overcome the temptation but in order to teach us that we will all be tempted, and that God can always bring us through. Christ did all these things to encourage us.
Art for this post on Ministry: Cover and featured image used with permission.