It was just one of those mornings for my four-year old. Even though he usually loves school, he sat in the car in tears, refusing to go to his classroom. I got in the car and sat in crouched in the backseat, already hot and stuffy with the Cali heat. We talked about why he was feeling sad, what was making him reluctant to go in, how I could help him. About every five minutes, he would gather himself and dry his tears, only to burst out into alligator tears a moment later.
We went on like this for over 20 minutes. As I was opening the door after he agreed to get some fresh air, he looked at me with eyes red and swollen and said something I will never forget. “Momma, I cannot go in there now. I have to fix myself first.”
We live in a house familiar with tears and messiness, so this comment struck me by surprise. It seems that despite our intentional efforts to show our children the full spectrum of human emotion and allow them to be where they are, his little heart innately knew that the world is not friendly to weakness. He wanted to hide until he looked like he had it together for his teachers and classmates.
He is four; I am thirty four. But as he spoke those words, I knew exactly what he meant, as, all too often, I live out of the phrase that he so succinctly and honestly spoke.
I have been studying the book of Hebrews, and the Spirit has had me lingering on Christ as our Great High Priest. In writing Hebrews, Paul is tapping into his deeply Jewish roots to convince the Jewish Christians of the all-sufficiency and pre-eminence of Christ, who fulfilled all the Old Testaments roles of prophet, priest and king.
Paul’s Hebrew audience was well-acquainted with the office of the High Priest, as we today are well acquainted with the presidency.
The High Priest was the chief of the priests, the one who on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, would make his way into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people. He was to mediate between God and man, attempting to fill the divide by sacrifices.
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Hebrews 5:1-2.
The priests were meant to tap into their own weaknesses and thereby access compassion and empathy for their struggling constituents.
What the high priest were meant to typify, Christ perfectly personified.
Christ, who was uncreated and all-powerful, left His impenetrable safety and unparalleled power in the Trinity, took on gangly limbs and the limits of time and space. He took on a body that was subject to fevers, sun exposure and exhaustion. He limited himself to the circadian rhythms of the human body. He let himself, in the words of Paul, be beset with human weakness.
Perikeimai, the Hebrew word translated beset in Hebrews 5:2, literally means to be surrounded by, encompassed by, to be clothed with.
Christ clothed himself with weakness. He wore our feebleness as his frock. He took both onto and into Himself, allowing Himself to literally be beset with weakness. On the Cross, He became both the High Priest and the sacrificial lamb, slain once for all time, to atone for our sins and separation from God, the Father.
He did this that He might continue His role as our Great High Priest. What Christ once did on earth, He continues to do in Heaven, still living to make intercession for us.
We are called to boldly, confidently wear our weakness before a world (and all too often a Church) that demands we have it all together.
Christ himself wore weakness. We are called to wear our weakness.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16.
With one amazing catch. When we bring our weakness, we receive His clothes of dignity and strength.
I have always felt mocked by the Proverbs 31 woman, “who is clothed with strength and dignity.” Now, I am beginning to realize that she wore strength and dignity because she first wore her weakness. Those were borrowed robes that she received in the presence of the Great High Priest.
As such, we do not have to wear strength in the world, to show our best selves, to gather ourselves together and hide and dilute our brokenness, weakness and frailty. As much as I love him, my Phin was wrong. We do not have to fix ourselves. Indeed, for the Christian, quite the opposite is true. We are called to bring our rags to the throne room and receive robes of borrowed strength.