How is Jesus fully God and fully human? I do not think I understand it well, and I cannot explain it well with big theological words. But maybe, as a mama, I feel some sort of understanding when I think of him in his final moments, caring for his mama.
My mind, with all the emotions, often goes back to the early morning of June 19, 2019. A few hours earlier, our six-month-old son’s doctor had come into his hospital room to let us know they had found a liver that was compatible for him. Ever since Boaz was diagnosed with a liver disease a few weeks after his birth, it felt as though we were forced to watch his body slowly deteriorate. Each day, he struggled keeping down the small amount of milk we fed him in his feeding tube. His skin color and eyes turned more yellow, and he slept more each day. Without this new liver, he would die.
That night, they needed me to contact my husband Danny, bring Boaz’s brothers to see him before surgery, and fill out paperwork to consent for surgery. There was a sense of urgency and overwhelming relief, fear and sadness, and exhaustion.
Is it even possible to feel all those emotions at once?
I think many mothers reading this would give a resounding “yes.” At 11 p.m., we had prayed over Boaz and his medical team right before they wheeled him off. Honestly, I think Danny prayed, and I squeaked noises between messy sobs. I was having difficulty seeing well because my eyes were puffy from crying. They intubated Boaz and placed various ports and tubes. Then we were able to be with him while they started plasmapheresis to prepare his body for a liver from another blood type. I had trouble looking at or touching Boaz without dissolving into sobs.
During the next four hours I stayed at Boaz’s side, as we waited for his new liver to arrive from Illinois. Finally it came, and his transplant surgeon inspected it. The surgery started at 4 a.m. We were warned it could take up to twelve hours. I remember not being able to catch my breath due to crying as they wheeled him away, because I wondered if this might be the last time I would see him alive. Miraculously, his surgery only took four hours. We were awakened in a room in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at 8 a.m. by his transplant surgeon, who said it went well and we could see him soon.
That was our story during that night, but it is impossible to share that story without wondering about their story. What about the family who donated their baby’s liver, so my baby had a chance at life? This liver did not just involve the thirteen-month-old baby who somehow had lost his or her life. It involved that family. He or she had a mother and a father. Did he or she have siblings? Over and over, Boaz’s surgeon mentioned how well that other baby’s liver fit into Boaz so that they were able to close his abdomen without complications. But why was that liver in Boaz and not in that other precious baby? A family in their deepest grief chose to think of helping another. Thinking of this baby’s mama brings instant tears to my eyes. Was she able to stand on her own as she signed the papers agreeing to donate their baby’s organ or as she said goodbye? Did someone have to hold her up? How puffy were her eyes? What does June 19, 2019 mean to her? How does she remember that day? The death of her baby allowed my baby Boaz to have life.
Jesus had a human body. He was born (Luke 2:7). He grew (Luke 2:40, 52). He grew tired (John 4:6) and got thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matthew 4:2). He became physically weak (Matthew 4:11; Luke 23:26), and he died (Luke 23:46). And he had a mother (Luke 2). As Jesus was whipped, humiliated, slapped in the face, and finally crucified, his mother was always present. In John 19:26-27, we hear Jesus telling John to behold his mother, meaning that he should take care of her as Jesus was no longer able to. Picturing this, I wonder how Mary was standing. How was she weeping? Was someone required to physically hold her up in this moment? I am reminded of God’s empathy toward me, toward us.
I have heard it said that having a child is like living with your heart outside your body. I get that. In times of grief or hurt involving my children, I feel a pain in my own heart almost like I am struggling to breathe.
When Boaz was diagnosed with biliary atresia at three weeks old, it turned our lives upside down. It drastically changed our plans to share the gospel with the Bilala people in Chad. Amid the heartache, I remember my anger toward God: “You’d better make sure there is nothing wrong with him, God. You’d better heal him. I do not think I can go on without him; I know I do not want to try. How am I to continue to worship and serve you without a part of my heart?” I know Boaz is God’s child, but I am selfish. God would not give him to me and then take him away, would he? Did Mary wonder those same things? After Jesus’ birth, as Mary pondered all these things in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51), was she preparing for these moments of anguish standing before the cross of her dying son?
Jesus only spoke a few times from the cross. In one of his last utterances, we see Jesus dying in agony and between gasps of breath, in great pain, he thinks to care for his mother. Jesus is a son with a mother, with a family. And unlike the baby who gave Boaz his liver, Jesus is offering up his own life, to save the world. As crazy as it sounds, I think I can feel it. I can feel his mama’s pain in watching her son dying in order to give us life. I think of this other mama in Illinois who said goodbye to her child, while we watched our son’s eyes and skin change color as his new liver worked miraculously in his body. I think I understand what it means that Jesus became human in full, so that he might save us in full.
Mandy Bronson served the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as a missionary in Chad. She currently is a member of Community of Joy Lutheran Brethren Church in Eagan, Minnesota where her husband Rev. Danny Bronson serves as pastor.