Contrary to those who hope to turn Jesus into a mere symbol, the specifics of His life matter a great deal. It matters that He was born in Bethlehem, in Palestine, in the Roman Empire, during the reign of Caesar Augustus. It matters that He was Jewish, born of Jewish parents who followed Jewish law. It matters that He spoke Aramaic, met his first disciples in Galilee, and suffered crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. These details make it clear that He did not only exist in hearts and minds of people needing a savior; He actually existed at a specific time and in a specific place, and these specifics make all the difference.
Nevertheless, one critical detail that often goes overlooked is Jesus’ manhood. Just like God came down from heaven to be born at a certain time and certain place, He also decided to be born as a certain sex: male.
In the usual fashion, most progressive thinkers treat this detail as an accident of a patriarchal culture. The Jewish and Roman communities assigned positions of authority to men, limited formal education to men, and relied on men for labor while they mostly relegated women to the domestic realm. Ironically, Jesus enjoyed few if any of these benefits having no social status, little formal education, and no official job title. The reason for manhood is not so obvious.
All the same, Jesus’ manhood matters even if the reason behind it remains a mystery. As a human male, He models manliness as well as humanity. Most Catholic men will feel more comfortable looking up to the manliness of his foster father, St. Joseph, or more typically virile men like St. Pier Giorgio Frassati or St. Louis, or strong men like St. Martin of Tours or St. Maximillian Kolbe; but they often do not think of Jesus in this way, either out of pious deference or just baffled intimidation.
Far from making Him more universal and relatable, this neglect of Jesus’ manhood makes Him less real, and it deprives Christian men of understanding their earthly and spiritual roles. Jesus is the Bridegroom, the model husband, who protects, leads, and provides for His Bride the Church. He is also the Son, who obeys and honors His Father. These roles are natural to men, not women. Failing to understand this fundamental truth in current times has predictably threatened masculinity and all that comes with it.
Although Jesus’ manhood deserves a full exegesis consisting of multiple volumes, it might be helpful to briefly review the masculine roles that He embodies as a bridegroom and son; in particular, His role as leader, protector, and provider as well as His role as a son.
Jesus the Leader
While Jesus meekly humbles Himself before others, He also leads His Church with authority. He paradoxically makes humility and meekness compatible with leadership, revealing that these virtues are signs of true manly inner-strength.
Like a shepherd leading his sheep, Jesus leads his Bride with decisiveness and strength. He never neglects His people, never coddles them, nor does He ever grow angry with them. He never rests, but continues His mission to the end, always moving forward. His great strength also prevents Him from depending on His people, exploiting them, seeking validation from them. He instead empowers them through his leadership, challenging them to develop their own inner strength; hence Christians use the term “discipleship,” one who accepts discipline, and not just “believer” or “follower.”
Leadership like this can inform men today in their relationships and work. Like Jesus, men must lead with inner strength—which other writers sometimes call “having an abundance mentality.” A man with inner strength has control over his emotions and proceeds gently with others: he is meek. A man with inner strength respects the souls of others and does not operate by society’s standards but by God’s: he is humble. He does not act as a insecure lackey, but as a self-reliant conductor.
Although they may not say it, friends and spouses desire men who can lead like Jesus, and thus empower and serve like Him. The indecisive petty employer and the clingy aimless husband inevitably receive scorn. This feeling can be observed among those who assume the misconception of Jesus as a weak (not meek) and passive (not active) victim (not a leader). They often become militant atheists, like Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud, who inevitably seek a strong man in things like the Ubermensch, the State, or the Ego. In the same fashion, many women become militant feminists in reaction to men who did not want to lead.
Jesus the Protector
Unlike the Old Testament heroes who vanquished throngs of Philistines, like Sampson, or took down giants, like David, Jesus faces a much greater, yet much more subtle enemy: Satan, the Lord of World. With infinite courage and intelligence, the Bridegroom must protect His Bride from the constant assaults of the devil.
Far from shrinking away from the challenge, leaving His flock defenseless, Jesus confronts the enemy in His ministry as a man and in His divinity as God. For sinners consumed with vice, He moves them to repent and destroys sin through His forgiveness. For false teachers consumed with themselves, He refutes their teaching and neutralizes their poison. Finally, in the Cross, He takes on the wrath of God at the overwhelming evil of humanity, to protect His people from the eternal death they justly deserve. Moreover, He continues to do this forever after in the Blessed Sacrament.
When considering the role of protector, most men might prefer the Old Testament heroes who had a clear enemy and took clear action. Unfortunately, their enemy will more often resemble the one Jesus confronted than a bloodthirsty Jihadist or grizzly bear. Like Jesus, men must confront sin—sin in themselves, sin in their loved ones, sin in their world. This requires a pure and forgiving heart, but also an uncompromising view to false arguments, hypocrisy, and fear.
Like the man who cannot lead, the man who cannot protect denies a key component of his masculinity. His vice makes him soft; his inability to confront evil makes him insecure; and unwillingness to even recognize evil makes him abusive, someone to be protected against. A family without a protector will break up and scatter. Accordingly, the communities that do not see evil as something to recognize and fight, but something harmless and friendly—who, in other words, tell their protectors to step aside—eventually become evil themselves, hypocritically glorifying sin, vice, and misery, and finally decaying into nothing.
(To Be Continued. In Part Two: Jesus The Provider, Jesus the Son, and Jesus the Man.)