Like most people, I rarely find time to read the pleasurable titles on my book list. However, last week I was thrilled to complete a collection of C.S. Lewis's journalistic essays. The collection begins with Lewis's reflection on Medieval chivalry and the "double demand it makes on human nature." In order to be truly chivalrous, according to Lewis, one must be both fierce and meek "to the nth degree." With modern society's confusion surrounding the concept of manliness we are forced into this false dichotomy that being a man is either the rugged lumberjack or the sensitive submissive. Lewis makes a compelling case that manliness, as defined by medieval chivalry, does not pick sides but embraces both visions with equal enthusiasm. Lewis has a way of challenging us from unexpected directions where we have not fortified our defenses allowing his ideas to impregnate our imagination.
Stumbling on this essay was an unexpected treat. The more I thought about Lewis's argument, the more I was reminded of another piece of pleasure reading from a couple years back. Reading Mark Noll's Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, I was challenged to think Christologically about the world around us--how does our world reflect Christ? In this essay by Lewis, I believe I found such a reflection. The chivalrous duality of Lancelot illustrates for us, in certain aspects, the dual nature of Christ. Most evangelical Christians affirm the idea that Jesus was both fully God and fully man...and then we move onto the more "practical" aspects of the faith. However, Jesus's dual nature as the "God-Man" provides a template for humanity to hold onto two natures --the fierce and the meek. The example of Lancelot can be a reflection deepening our understanding of Christ, and Christ, in turn, can provide an example for understanding our role as humans.
When Christ added a human nature to his divine through the incarnation, he accomplished yet more than just salvation. Jesus came to earth to show humanity what it was to be human--Jesus provided a template for being human we lost in the fall. What does this mean? Jesus came and lived a life dependent on the Holy Spirit and unified with the Father that we should have lived. What is more impressive, he did so, not in the idyllic garden, but in the midst of a sinful world He did that which we could not. He not only revealed "God with Us"but revealed humanity in its true form.
While this is true for humanity in general, I think there is a special lesson in here for men (I believe this is true of females as well, but not being one myself, I will punt on that topic). The Jesus we read in the Gospels is the example of meekness par excellence. He was the man who would not damage even a bruised reed, a man who did not speak in his own defense, a man who openly wept and suffered. But if we believe this is all of Jesus, we ignore the testimony of John. There will come a time, according to the book of Revelation, when the time for meekness and forgiveness will be complete and there will be a season of justice and triumph. This same Jesus who was mocked with a crown of thorns will return riding a horse as a military general. In fact, the fierceness we encounter in the book of Revelation causes most to soft sell the language as allegorical. This may be the case, but we should remember that allegorical language, by definition, must bear some relationship with its reality or it cannot tell us anything. The Jesus we meet in the Gospel of John is the same Jesus described in the apocalypse of John.
Jesus came to show us what it means to be human--fierce and meek to the nth degree. Any culture that forces us to choose between the two is not rooted in the template for all humanity--the imago--Jesus Christ. So next time you pick up a copy of Morte D'Arthur you may consider it a spiritual exercise. Who knows when I will have the time again.