Did Jesus ever have bad breath?

December 1, 2003

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Sometimes we become so familiar with an idea or phrase that it ceases to have any meaning for us. We can declare “Jesus Christ is true God and true man” as casually as we ask for fries with our hamburgers, and with just as little of a feeling of mystery.

It is only by stopping and reflecting upon this mystery that we can start to reclaim the wonder it deserves. Two thousand years ago, God became man and walked among us for over thirty years. He is our Lord, and his name is Jesus. Jesus is not just a man, nor is he just God. Nor is Jesus a little bit of man mixed with a little bit of God—a sort of “God-man sandwich.” He is not 50/50 or 20/80, but 100% human and 100% divine. Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God.

What a profound and beautiful mystery! It is so profound that it took the early Church over four centuries to come to this understanding of her Savior. This truth may seem obvious to us today, but this is only because we have inherited the fruit of those first centuries of intense theological reflection and debate. It is a truth that one can easily miss by exaggerating one of Christ’s natures at the expense of the other.

A common tendency is to think of Jesus as merely a man, ignoring his divinity. This is how the world tends to approach Jesus. He is one of the greatest spiritual leaders that ever lived, like Buddha or Mohammed or Gandhi, but he is not God. He worked miracles and was a great prophet, but was still just a man. With the eyes of faith, the Church was able to peer into the face of Jesus and recognize his divinity. The Church saw that Jesus of Nazareth must be fully God if he is to save us from our sins. Only God can save mankind from sin and death. If Jesus was anything but fully divine, he would not have been able to offer the infinite sacrifice that saved us from our sins.

We of faith can easily fall into the other trap, recognizing Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity. We can believe that Jesus is God, but in our heart of hearts, we cringe at the thought that he was really “one of us.” We can’t imagine Jesus getting sick, having a round of bad breath, or needing a bathroom break. And surely God did not actually suffer and die upon the Cross! We are tempted to imagine that the Lord just kind of “wore” a human body like a kid wears a Halloween mask… because He wouldn’t really become one of us messy weak human beings, right?

Led by the Holy Spirit, the Church understood that Jesus also had to be fully man in order to save us from our sins. His humanity is just as essential to our salvation as his divinity. While remaining fully divine, Jesus really did become fully human, “like us in every way” but sin (Heb 2:17, 4:15). His life and his death were not make-believe. God did not ‘pretend’ to be born, grow up, and walk among his creatures two thousand years ago. Jesus was not playing along and faking violent pain when nails were hammered into his hands and when he was hung on a cross. By taking on our fallen human nature, Jesus restored it to unheard-of heights. By becoming one of us, Jesus allowed us to become his brothers and sisters, adopted children of God.

How can the infinite God become a finite man? We will never be able to fully understand this mystery, but because we love Jesus, we want to know him as he truly is and to dive into that mystery as deeply as humanly possible. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man!

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