Gavan O'Farrell graduated in Arts/Law from Monash University and has worked as a solicitor in the Victorian public sector in areas of criminal law, occupational health, safety law and legislative drafting. He is currently completing part-time a Master of Divinity degree at Melbourne College of Divinity.
We have for some time understood the significance of "body language" - the small, unconscious actions that accompany our words. They are part of the small, incidental actions that form an important part of our communication and also reveal something of our character - our "manner", so to speak.
Since Jesus was human (among other things), the people who saw and heard him must also have witnessed his smaller actions and been impressed by them. However, we Christians have generally not noticed. We have noticed his crucifixion, his resurrection, his larger actions - cures and other miraculous actions - and his words. The way our bibles are set out reflects this: usually, there are sub-headings that tell us what happens in the next paragraph or so; and, in many bibles, Jesus' words are printed in red, reflecting the importance we naturally attach to them.
Since the Jesus we see in the Gospels is the same Jesus we are presently acquainted with, it makes sense to be interested in any additional light that his small actions shed on his character. Sometimes, Christians use contemplative prayer to "enter into" a Gospel scene, to see what's going on; or role-play. Okay, but we also have ready access to "more of Jesus" by more straightforward means, namely, by looking at the bits of Gospel text that we usually skim over.
I am going to mention seven examples. In doing so, I do not mean to ignore or diminish the importance of Jesus' greater actions or his words. It is just that there is more. I will say what I think the "more" might be, but it is just a personal opinion.
In Mark 5:38-42, Jesus raises a dead girl to life, demonstrating His sovereignty over our mortal condition. When we read "taking the child by the hand", we also find that he is tactile and has a kindly bedside manner. We know from the incident with the centurion (Matthew 8:5-13) that Jesus can heal by remote control. However, he preferred "being there", so he could use the personal touch.
In Mark 7:32-35, Jesus cures a deaf man with a speech impediment. In doing so, we read that he took him aside to be by themselves, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man's ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Here, we find a God who, more than tactile, is willing to roll his sleeves up and get in a mess. In addition, we find the delicacy of taking the man aside so that he could be ministered to in private. Why all this trouble? Because Jesus was moved. How do we know this? He sighed; he felt for the man. We little creatures can cause the heart of the Creator to shift.
In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus blesses some children and observes that a certain childlike quality will improve our eternal prospects. However, then he embraced them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing. The embrace is gratuitous, more than was asked of him: we can now add affection to the bedside manner already identified. In the same passage, we also see a determination to have people come to him if circumstances permit: we know because he becomes indignant at the attempt to keep the children from him.
In Mark 3:1-5, Jesus cures a man with a withered hand. He does this on a Sabbath and has something to say about this to his critics. In addition, we are told that he looked angrily round at them, grieved to find them so obstinate. He is clearly angry. Why? Because his authority is not recognised? Yes, but he already knew this. This anger is a sudden onset. I suggest it is because his critics were trying to bind him with rules - to use the Law to prevent him from helping someone. He is not merely inclined to assist us, but heatedly determined about it. Be warned: you don't come between Jesus and a human being who needs him.
In Mark, 12:41-44, Jesus observes that the two small coins of a poor widow are worth more that larger gifts from the rich. How did he come to notice? He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury. Jesus seems to be one of these people who likes to sit and watch human beings going about their affairs. Many of us, in a leisurely moment, like to do the same. Jesus is interested in us. He watches us, as if fascinated.
In Mark 5:25-34, Jesus cures a woman of a haemorrhage. This is the woman who "steals" power from Jesus by picking his pocket. There is something else: noticing the departure of power, Jesus turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" When his disciples explain that it will not be easy to work this out, we are told, "But he continued to look all round to see who had done it". The woman is already cured, but this is not enough: Jesus wants a face-to-face encounter, and is determined to obtain it. He waits for her to muster the courage to identify herself. She does, and he speaks to her in words also directed at each of us.
In Gethsemane, in Mark 14:32-36, Jesus speaks of his sorrow. We are also told that he began to feel terror and anguish. This must have been observable, to be reported. We are also told that he threw himself on the ground. Here, the small actions are aligned with the words. There is no room for an additional message: Jesus' emotional reaction to his plight fills the scene. The action of throwing himself to the ground shows that he is overwhelmed - certainly by fear, and perhaps by anger at the unfairness of being blamed and punished for the actions of others.
Who does this? Small children who cannot protect themselves from being overwhelmed by feelings that are too big to handle. We adults do this rarely, if ever. Although this is why Jesus came, we see from this behaviour that there was a small passage of time when it appears he did not want to do it. Being God did not made this any easier. He did it hard. And I am relieved, and occasionally grateful for this.
Christ our companion
So, this is the company we Christians keep! Someone on the watch for me. Someone who kept looking, until we found each other. Someone who has affection for me and is not shy about showing it. Someone who is prepared to get his hands dirty in helping me; and whose soiled hands have a considerate touch. Someone who, having an opportunity to get to me, will bristle if anyone tries to prevent this from happening.
Someone who, for reasons best known to himself, thinks I'm one to die for - and who did exactly that, even though it did not suit him.
Of course, there are many other passages. We can find them without being especially learned (although I assume a more scholarly examination will reveal more). I am conscious that these small actions of Our Lord's only provide a piece of the puzzle. On the other hand, I have found that anything I learn about someone I love is of interest.