This past week I had the opportunity, only for the second time in my life, to be voluntarily reminded of the utterly debased side of my mortal identity.
We humans, especially we affluent ones, spend an inordinate amount of time camouflaging the debased side of our mortal identity. We bathe, shave and perfume ourselves in a desperate attempt to fend off body odor and age. Women, simply because they have an amazing ability to be more beautiful than men, add hair, jewelry, and makeup to the routine. Okay, some men do hair, jewelry, and makeup too, but you get the point.
I’m not complaining. It’s nice to hang around people who look and smell nice.
It’s a pity that billions of less affluent people have little chance for such luxuries, scrambling as they must for the next meal or shelter away from heat, rain, cold, or predators. Right now, on the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh, over 620,000 people from the Rohingya ethnic group are not thinking much about a hot soapy bath or Chanel Number 5. Maybe they’re dreaming about it in a lice-infested shelter as they go to bed on an empty stomach. It’s nice to dream, especially when that’s all you have left, after being driven from your home at threat of death, and chased across the border into another nation who doesn’t want you.
As I walked into our local Endoscopy Center I prepared myself to be reminded of the debased side of my mortal identity. I waited for an hour with other equally apprehensive souls who would soon be reminded of their mortal identity. Then, my name was called. Through the solid door I went and into a small room where a young female staff said, “Take off all your clothes and put them into this bag. Put on this robe and I’ll be right back to tie the back for you.” A few minutes later she knocked on the door. “Are you ready?”
Will I ever be ready for this? I wondered.
Clinging to the flowing green robe, that without effort would expose my backside to every staff, doctor, and patient in the back room, I was next directed to a lounge chair. Privacy curtains on both sides provided some protection for my rapidly waning dignity. There I sat for a cold, air-conditioned hour while they prepped me – IV, blood pressure, interview, health history, medications – out of sight but within ear shot of other patients waiting their turn. They got my story and I got theirs. So much for confidentiality in the medical world.
We should do more to identify with people who are forced to identify with their debased mortal identity.
The coup-de-grace happened in the procedure room. Everybody was nice. Professional. Caring. Then they stuck a cattle prod… well, you get the idea.
After I came to, from the “kinder, gentler, sedative” (so named by the anesthesiologist), all was well in the world… except for the ugly green robe still compromising my dignity. Blurry from sedation, two young nurses helped me put my clothes back on. Socks, underwear, slacks, shoes. I pulled my shirt on by myself, thank God, but the underwear was the low point.
We live in a culture where we can mostly opt out of such experiences. Even when we opt in – mine was a routine thing for guys my age – we aren’t afraid. Not really. The worst we experience is brief embarrassment. A little humiliation. A harmless reminder that, while we are connected to the divine, we are flesh.
As Beth drove me home I thought about the Rohingya people. These refugees are being reminded every day of their debased mortal identity. It’s not optional. It’s not gentle. Nor is it harmless. It’s violent, including rape and murder, with fear, hunger, cold, and filth thrown in.
We should do more to identify with people who are being forced to identify with their debased mortal identity. You know, to live among them. To commiserate. To offer hope and a possibility of change. This is what Jesus did when he was born in a dirty barn. Jesus also lived this way – intentionally, simply, unadorned, homeless and selfless. Why did Jesus do this? So He could be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. So He could identify with us, speak our language and bring us hope in a meaningful human way.
This is why the prophets called Him “IMMANUEL.” God. With. Us. He couldn’t be Immanuel without doing stuff like this.
Ultimately, Jesus died this way too. Before He died, He was rejected by the community, forsaken by his friends, stripped of his clothes, beaten unconscious, and finally hung naked like a criminal on a Roman cross. His death was a brutal and bloody.
He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
After my mild experience, I shudder when I think about what Jesus went through.
We all seek glory – whether by beauty, or youth, or wealth, or fame. True glory, however, comes to us along a path that will not avoid humility and suffering. This past week I was graciously reminded of this priceless truth.
Oh, that we would seek this path – not for our own sakes but for His and others – by dedicating our lives to follow Jesus.