“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” (Heb 4:15).
I’m convinced that the ability of our great high priest to sympathise has something very important to say to our world today. I don’t know if you’ve noticed how divided we’re getting into separate identities. A common buzzword you hear today is “intersectionality”; this is the idea that some people can experience overlapping forms of discrimination e.g. a black woman can experience both racism and sexism at the same time, and so is worse off than both black men and white women. A flip side to this is the idea of “white male privilege”, which means that I, as a white, male, am at the top of the pile of privilege. Now, I think both concepts have some validity; I am very privileged (though I think there are many white males living in England that haven’t had anywhere near as much opportunity as me). Likewise, some people do experience discrimination at multiple levels too. But these ideas can be milked in all kinds of unhelpful ways. There’s this growing sense that we can’t really understand each other, e.g. “You can’t know what it’s like to be me, because you’re a white male”. I’ve had people tell me: “You’re not qualified to give a talk on homosexuality, unless you’ve experienced it yourself…”. It can feed into a culture of victimhood, where your experience of “hurt” and “pain” somehow gives you a special, protected status, into which others on the outside cannot speak.
Here’s the problem with that: it disqualifies Jesus from being our great high priest. You see, is Jesus not qualified to sympathize with women then? Do you need a female Saviour? After all, Jesus didn’t take a female human nature, did he? He’s the man Christ Jesus. Is Jesus not qualified to sympathize with those who’ve experienced racism? After all, he was a Jew living in Palestine – he wasn’t exactly part of an ethnic minority! This can extend in all kinds of directions: Jesus didn’t experience a miscarriage, did he, so how can he sympathise with couples who have? Jesus didn’t suffer sexual abuse, so how can he sympathise with those struggling to come to terms with their abuse?
Christ’s incarnation forces us to re-think human nature. Human nature is nowhere near as divided as our world likes to tell us. You can’t split up human nature into all these different identities that can’t understand each other. Gender is much less significant than we are led to believe. Ethnicity is much less significant than we are led to believe. Our Lord is truly qualified to sympathize with us in all our “weaknesses”, and has been tempted “in every respect… as we are, yet without sin”.
Isn’t the point here that Jesus says: “#MeToo”? Whatever form your “weakness” takes, whatever guise your “temptation” comes in, Jesus can say: “#MeToo”. Hebrews 4:15 is his MeToo moment. The particularities of your temptation may look different to Jesus; for example, Jesus did not experience homosexual urges, but he did experience strong temptation to let his powerful bodily desires get the better of him (Matt 4:3). He didn’t experience the pain of going through a divorce, but he did experience the pain of betrayal and having relationships ripped apart. So, this feeling that “I’m all alone!” – that “no one gets me” – “no one understands me!” – is devilish! Certainly, as Christians, we need to develop sensitivity to one another’s experiences; sure, we need to grow in sympathy and hear what’s unique about each other’s situations, but we mustn’t start playing the games of this world. Let’s not start telling ourselves that our brothers and sisters cannot understand us – that we can’t know what one another are going through. It’s not true that I have to have been through it, to be able to sympathize and genuinely relate! Otherwise, we’ve disqualified Christ as our great high priest. Instead, as we see the splits and divisions created by sin all around us, let’s share the good news of Jesus Christ, our great, intersectional high priest and his #MeToo moment, who, in his one person, can answer and heal them all.