He who never yielded to temptation Himself has already lived through and overcome the discouragement and the sorrow of those who do. That is why Christ chose to be not a superman, not in a physical sense an extraordinary man, but an ordinary man. He allowed His own words about the majority who would follow Him to be in a sense applicable to Himself: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." We did not identify ourselves with Christ, He identified Himself with us.
It is humiliation, wounded vanity, that makes it difficult to get up and go on after the shock of the first fall. If we have failed before others, if we have fallen openly, making ourselves objects of contempt and derision, it is still more difficult: our humiliation is the more bitter because we have not only betrayed ourselves to ourselves, but we have made fools of ourselves before men.
Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross
Earlier in this meditation, CH identifies this first fall of Jesus with the first falls that we experience at the beginning of our adult lives. "There," she writes, "is the young man or woman taken by surprise by the temptations of grown-up life." She talks about, ". . . a material cross; the burden of the material struggle . . . ," and seems to be mainly talking about political and economic difficulties. Certainly young adults have to face this in our time. I know young people who are crushed under the weight of the current economy and who don't have any faith that they will ever be able to support themselves adequately.
But not all young people fall under bad economic situations, in fact, hard economic times seem to spur some on to greater success, or better, to lives of heroic sanctity. The fall comes with sinking into despair in the face of these difficulties. Despair may be the greatest fall, but it also leads to all the others: alcoholism, drug abuse, disordered sexuality--all the tired worn out sins of a weary world. And, of course, all those sins have many other causes. Whatever the cross that first crushes us in our young adult lives (and I don't think it much matters what it is), the great disaster is that it is a fall away from true selves, away from the person that God created us to be.
And the great tragedy is the shame that keeps us from standing up and returning to ourselves. I'm not sure that CH is correct when she says that our humiliation is more bitter because we have failed before other men. Surely, that is terrible, but I think that the gnawing knowledge that we have failed within ourselves is the most debilitating wound. And so, Jesus falls the first time to be one with us in our brokenness and to show us the way that it can be healed. Because, "He who never yielded to temptation Himself has already lived through and overcome the discouragement and the sorrow of those who do."
Turn the humiliation
caused by our vanity
into Your humility,
and lift us up in Your power
and with Your courage
to take the cross
and to start again on the way,
not in ourselves
but in You.