Christ with the Woman at the Well
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Three Offices of Christ

Like children who desire to hear how much their parents love them, can we ever tire of hearing about God’s loving condescension to us? We could listen again and again about how He became a baby, spending those nine months in His mother’s womb, then learning to roll over and crawl and talk just so He could be close to us. Or hearing how, when He was preaching, He had compassion on the crowds and nourished them with loaves and fishes. And when His time had come, how He bore the passion of the cross to rescue us from hell. If this were not enough, He lowered himself further to become our food and drink in the Eucharist. In God’s incarnation, especially in his three functions – as Prophet, Priest and King – we see how far God has gone to rescue us.

While modern atheism has at times painted God as distant and uncaring, nothing could be further from the truth found in Christianity. Nothing and no one could stop God from seeking and finding us. In recounting his conversion, C.S. Lewis noted that some religious people talk about “‘man’s search for God.’ To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.” How different all those Gospel scenes appear when we come to see that Jesus was looking for every person He meets along the way. And is there anyone who He didn’t get on with immediately? It didn’t matter if it was a woman at a well, a rich Pharisee, the lame, blind and outcast, the poor woman of a different race who was bold and clever enough to appeal to God’s humanity, the raging devil-possessed man, thieving tax collectors and a Roman centurion.

All different sorts of people, but all of them were moved by Him. Jesus was Prophet, Priest and King, a triumvirate found in none before Him. As such, He identified with the “three principal conditions of mankind,” as St. John Henry Newan puts it: sufferers, laborers and intellectuals, corresponding to the attributes of “endurance, active life, thought.” God could have sent us a vision or an angel or a message, but instead he chose to dwell with us and in every way be like us. Newman says, “Every holy rite of the law did He go through for our sakes. And so too did He live through all states of man’s life up to a perfect man, infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, maturity, that He might be a pattern of them all. And so too did He take man’s perfect nature on Him, body, and soul, and reason, that He might sanctify it wholly. And therefore in like manner did He unite in Himself, and renew, and give us back in Him, the principal lots or states in which we find ourselves,—suffering, that we might know how to suffer; labouring, that we might know how to labour; and teaching, that we might know how to teach.”

As Prophet, Priest and King, Christ also mediates the Trinity; God the Father as King, God the Son as Priest, God the Holy Spirit as Prophet. Paradoxically, it is by the humanity of Jesus that we glimpse that Godhead so foreign to us. If not for Jesus, we might think God was much like an earthly king, or powerful commander, or a sage. We wouldn’t know that God’s kingship is in His humility, God’s power is in His sacrificial love, God’s wisdom is in His Person rather than in idle words. “But He came to combine what was dissipated, to recast what was shattered in Himself,” Newman says. 

In showing us, He has given us an example to follow. It isn’t a romantic example. There is no high office to obtain, no life of luxury and comfort to lay hold of, no power to hold over others. The honors of this life don’t await saints. The ambitious among us may look quite ordinary and ineffective from the outside. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we let Christ find us and then simply follow Him: “We must not be afraid of the frowns or anger of the world, or mind its ridicule. If so, we must be willing to suffer for the truth. This was that new thing that Christ brought into the world, a heavenly doctrine, a system of holy and supernatural truths, which are to be received and transmitted, for He is our Prophet, maintained even unto suffering after His pattern, who is our Priest, and obeyed, for He is our King.”

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