It’s been one of those days when my own imperfections, as well as those in the world around me, have been all too clear. The change of weather has brought the annual sniffles along with it. The house is a mess, and everything is even dustier because it’s dust storm season. The baby has been a complete grouch, for no apparent reason, and he chose a bad day for it, because my husband and I have more to do over this weekend than anyone could be reasonably expected to get done in a week. Messing things up as I went, like dropping and breaking the flashlight, spilling the juice as I poured it, and stubbing my toe as I cleaned it up didn’t improve the situation.
Since misery loves company, it was therefore an excellent day to remind myself that, as Cardinal Van Thuan boldly told Pope John Paul II and the Roman Curia during a retreat, even Jesus has his defects. Needless to say, his defects only contribute to his perfection, but reading Cardinal Van Thuan’s unique and subtly humorous perspective on the Lord’s personality still managed to brighten up my day considerably. Whether or not you also need cheering up also, Van Thuan’s explanation is well worth the read.
(Taken from An Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ, by Archbishop Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, July 6, 2000)
*Note: The following exerpt is an exact copy of the message Cardinal Van Thuan wrote. Errors in grammatical construction are due to the fact that he was writing in English, which was his second language.
First Defect: Jesus does not have a good memory (Luke 23:42-43)
During his agony on the cross, Jesus heard the voice of the thief at his right side: Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. If it had been me, I would have answered him: “I won’t forget you, but you must pay for your crimes by spending some 20 years in purgatory”. On the contrary, he said: Today you will be with me in Paradise. Jesus just forgot all about his sins. As for Mary Magdalene, Jesus never questioned her about her scandalous past life. He simply said to her: Your sins have been forgiven you because you loved so much. When the father sees his prodigal son coming home, he runs to meet him, embraces him and does not even give him time to pronounce the little speech he had prepared. He calls his servants and says: Kill the fatted calf to feast my son. My dead son has returned to life… Jesus doesn’t have a memory like mine. Not only does he forgive, he forgets everything.
Second Defect: Jesus is not good in mathematics (Luke 15:4-7)
If Jesus took a math examination, he would surely fail it. A shepherd had one hundred sheep; one of them strayed. Without thinking, the shepherd went in search of it, leaving the other ninety-nine sheep. When he found the lost sheep, he put it on his shoulders. For Jesus, 1 equals 99, perhaps even more! Who can accept this? When it comes to saving a lost sheep, nothing can stop Jesus: risk, fatigue, danger… Think also of Jesus’ merciful gestures when he sits at Jacob’s well in order to seek out the Samaritan woman or when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house! What simplicity; what love for sinners.
Third Defect: Jesus does not know anything about logic (Luke 14:8-10)
One night, a woman who had ten drachmas lost one of them. So she lit a lamp to search for it. When she found it, she invited her neighbors in and told them: Rejoice with me, because I found the drachma which I had lost. It is truly illogical to spend the night searching for one drachma and then to have a feast in the middle of the night to celebrate having found it. What is more, in inviting her friends to celebrate with her, she spent more than a drachma. Even ten drachmae would not cover the cost of the feast. Here we can truly say with Pascal: The heart has its reasons which reason does not know. It would have been more logical for the woman to go to bed and to search for the drachma in the daylight. But for Jesus, the search for a lost one has priority. He cannot lose a minute. Jesus revealed the secret of his heart. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Fourth Defect: Jesus is an adventurer
A person in charge of publicity for a company or a politician seeking election prepares a very precise program with many promises. Jesus promises only trials and persecutions to those who follow him. He warns them that the Son has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). In sending his disciples out on a mission, he tells them to take nothing for the journey: no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money and not to have two tunics (Luke 9:13). He also tells them that they will be blessed when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… (Matthew 5:11-12). In this state of absolute poverty, where did Jesus send his disciples? How far were they to go? They were to bring salvation, even to the very end of the earth (Acts 13:47). Have you ever heard of such an adventurer and his word: I am with you every day, even to the end of the world. We are truly disciples of Jesus when we follow him even to the end of the world. We are members of his association of adventurers, without address, without a telephone number, without a fax or website.
Fifth Defect: Jesus knows nothing about finances and economy .
The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard… After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard… About the eleventh hour, he went out and found others standing and he said to them ‘why do you stand here idle?’ They said to him ‘Because no one has hired us’. He said to them ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder… But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?’ (Matthew 20:1-13) If Jesus were named steward of a community or manager of an enterprise, those institutions would go bankrupt, because he would pay the same salary to the one who started working in the morning and to the one who began in the afternoon! Would he have made a mistake? Did he calculate incorrectly? No, he would do it on purpose: Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you.. do you begrudge my generosity? (Matthew 20:14-15)
You wonder why Jesus has these defects? Because He is love (1 John 4:16). Authentic love does not reason, does not calculate, does not measure, does not put up barriers, does not lay down conditions, does not set up boundaries and does not remember offences committed.
To read Cardinal Van Thuan’s entire message, click here. Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan (1928-2002) was a Vietnamese priest, bishop, and later Cardinal. He was imprisoned in communist Vietnam for 13 years, 9 of which he spent in solitary confinement. During his time in solitary confinement, he once wrote: am happy here, in this cell, where white mushrooms are growing on my sleeping mat, because You are here with me, because You want me to live here with You. I have spoken much in my lifetime: now I speak no more. It’s Your turn to speak to me, Jesus; I am listening to You.” Cardinal Van Thuan’s beatification process began in 2007.