A few weeks ago I was walking down the street with a friend in East Boston, and we came across a young boy selling some items on a porch stoop. He had a used bike, plus some other odds and ends, like a ball, some candy, some bracelets and whatnot. We stopped to have a look.
After some conversation, my friend bought one of the items for $5. The boy was very excited. When he received the ten dollar bill, he was ready to pull out a little wallet with change. He had been there all day and had made some sales. But it was a long day.
As we were walking away, my friend said to me, “I used to go out to the sidewalk and sell things like that when I was a kid.” And I realized why he wanted to buy the trinket that he bought: he could relate to the boy because he walked down the same path. He saw some of himself in the boy.
I used to coach basketball. I decided early on that I would never coach above the high school level. The reason is because I never played beyond the high school level. I couldn’t lead people down a path that I never walked. If I tried coaching at a higher level like college, I wouldn’t be able to relate to the players in the same way. I wouldn’t really be qualified to teach or lead them.
I did some volunteering at a few English as a Second Language programs here in Boston. I would assist some of the teachers in the classroom, or teach some of my own sessions. I always had a better rapport with the learners than the other teachers. It’s because I know what it’s like to learn another language in another culture, and they didn’t. I know what it’s like to feel like a complete foreigner and understand nothing, I know what it’s like to be laughed at, I know what it’s like to get discouraged and see a giant mountainous task in front of you. I know first-hand what the main obstacles are and all the tricks to move forward really quickly. I know what to say, how teach and how to lead through those obstacles because I’ve walked down the same path, and that makes me qualified to lead others down that path. Language learners can really relate to me.
There is a part in John’s Gospel where Jesus says that the Father doesn’t judge anyone, but lets the Son do the judging. The reason is because the Father has never walked in a human life. For all that God can do – His love and power and knowledge – for all that, God wasn’t qualified to teach or lead us. It would be unfair for Him to judge us, because He had never walked our human path. That is, until the Son became one of us. Now, Jesus is qualified to teach and lead us through life.
Jesus is available to lead us in life because he knows what it’s like to learn as you go though life. He knows what it’s like to get to work each day. He knows what it’s like to not be listened to. He knows what it’s like to be used and betrayed and abandoned. He knows what it’s like to feel alone. He knows what it’s like to make mistakes. He knows what it’s like to be left out, to be poor, to be laughed at, to be criticized, to be beaten, to be accused unfairly, to be last. He knows what it’s like to see the impossibilities and obstacles and sufferings and injustices of life, and yet how to see through and beyond all of that to the wonderful and beautiful treasures of life in other people and all creation that are placed along the way. He has all the tricks and teachings and wisdom to navigate life and grow quickly and shine brightly with a wonderful, deep happiness and hope and a heart for others – that all graduates into eternity.
He knows what it’s like because he’s walked down the same path.
Jesus looks at you and me in all that is our lives and he’s excited to support us. He sees himself in us and with a deep love he says, “I once walked that path.”
For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (Jn 5:26-27)