What does it mean to be human? When I ask that question I am not talking about biologically, but to live into the fullness of our humanity.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, being fully human would involve reaching self-actualization. For the humanist Maslow, this is where you find yourself capable of living your full potential. In the Indian religions, to be fully human involves reaching a state of nirvana.
So what might the Bible be inviting us into? The quick answer for most in Western Christianity would be heaven. But the Bible itself offers very little about heaven itself. Moreover, the most memorable references to heaven are linked to the Kingdom of Heaven. But the Kingdom of Heaven is about a way of living being rather than a geographic place. So how does the Bible envision being fully human?
Human vs. Humanoid
For those of you just readin on the website, we have a Discord channel for newsletter subscribers. The other day, someone brought up the topic of other people around the time of Adam and Eve came up.
The Bible itself invites this idea when it tells us that Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, had a wife. But where did she come from? Then, Genesis 6 opens with a discussion of people multiplying and having daughters. The sons of God saw them, found them beautiful, and wanted to marry them. Several translations even create a distinction between “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” It is almost as if the Bible invites us to embrace two lineages of humanity, those who live from the memory of Eden and those who do not.
For those who see Genesis opening with a series of cosmological myths as opposed to a story of how the physical world came into existence, this all seems quite reasonable.
In this frame, I suggested we might define the two groups as humans and humanoids. The humans embraced those early cosmological myths which placed them on a path toward a biblical understanding of self-actualization. But again, what does that look like?
The Self-Actualized Jesus
And that brings us to what many Christian traditions call Maundy Thursday. It is the day before Jesus’ crucifixion when he celebrated Passover with his disciples and gave them a new command (or mandate which is where maundy derives from), to love one another.
To set the stage for this mandate, Jesus first models it. John tells of a fully empowered Jesus who stands up, takes off his robe, and wraps a towel around his waist. That opening detail is important. Jesus does not operate out of obligation or coercion, but from a deep understanding of himself. This is an act he wants to engage in, not one he does because it is what he is supposed to do. Then Jesus brings a basin of water, kneels, and washes his closest followers’ feet.
In the ancient world, foot washing was a regular activity, largely because people walked around a hot and dusty world in sandals. Entering into a home meant either washing your feet or tracking all kinds of dirt inside. While most people washed their own feet, in the most opulent of homes the lowliest of the servants was the dedicated foot washer.
Because the disciples would have already washed their feet upon entering the room, Jesus’ action is entirely symbolic and models both the kind of love God offers humanity and the love actualized people offer to one another. In other words, Jesus shows them what it means to be fully human.