April 05, 2018

Jesus, Who Are You?

By Bishop Thomas J. Tobin *
Credit: Pexels
Credit: Pexels

Sometimes people are sort of surprised that bishops, when not in the public spotlight, lead relatively normal lives. We eat and drink, rest and recreate, have cats and dogs, struggle with friendships, deal with family crises, watch TV, play golf, and swear at slot machines in casinos. And sometimes, we even go shopping. I experienced that kind of surprise recently in a chance meeting with one of our faithful parishioners.

A few weeks ago I was in my local CVS picking-up a few things I needed, toothpaste and shampoo, I think. I was dressed casually, in secular attire, as is my habit when at home on weekends. While wandering aimlessly through the aisles of the store a very nice lady stopped me, put up her hand and asked, “Who are you?” 

“It depends,” I said, “are you friend or foe?” 

“No, really,” she persisted, “Who are you?” 

“I’m Bishop Tobin,” I admitted. 

“Oh, thank goodness . . . I thought I was losing my mind . . . You look like Bishop Tobin, but I never thought I’d find him here shopping for himself,” she said.

“I shop for things all the time,” I tried to explain.

Nonetheless, my friendly encounter with a fellow shopper, and the question she asked, has helped me prepare for the observance of Passiontide and Holy Week. 

The Gospels during these late Lenten days are filled with accounts of the increasing conflict and hostility Jesus experienced in the time leading up to his passion and death. His disciples struggled to stay faithful to him during these tense times; Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him. His enemies, especially the Jewish leaders, angered at his arrogance and stinging rebukes, looked for ways to entrap and indict him. And even casual bystanders argued about where he came from, who he was and whether he was the Messiah or a fraud.

“Jesus, who are you?” they were asking.

It’s a leading, loaded question, and one we should be asking too as we follow Jesus during Holy Week.

As we see Jesus in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the large crowd of people welcoming him as a conquering hero, spreading cloaks and palm branches before him, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

As we see Jesus gathered with his disciples at the Last Supper, mysteriously handing over his body and blood, and kneeling down to wash their dirty feet, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

As we see Jesus in the garden, praying, agonizing over his impending fate, sweating drops of blood, comforted by the visit of the angel, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

As we see Jesus suffer the rejection and ridicule of his passion, the unimaginable pain and humiliation of the cross, and finally the total emptying of self in death, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

And on Easter morn, when the Risen Christ surprises us as he did Mary Magdalene, appearing now in a glorified body that confounded even his closest disciples, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?” 

The presence of Christ in the Church is perennial, but so is the mystery that surrounds him. Every generation of believer looks at Christ anew and asks, “Jesus, who are you?”

I see that NBC is presenting a television special, Jesus Christ Superstar, live and in concert, on Easter Sunday evening. It promises to be an engaging production, and kudos to NBC for offering some very appropriate Christian, family-friendly programming on Easter. 

One of the most beautiful songs of Superstar, sung by Mary Magdalene, is the haunting and powerful, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” In the song, Mary is clearly conflicted by her relationship with Jesus – she loves him, perhaps even romantically, as a man, but is distanced by the power of his divine mission. She sings, plaintively: “I don’t know how to love him, what to do, how to move him. I’ve been changed, yes really changed, in these past few days, when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else . . . He’s a man. He’s just a man. . . What’s it all about?”

Can’t we relate to Mary’s dilemma? Do we know how to love Jesus? We say all the time that we believe in him, and I guess we do our best. But so often the seismic faults of our human nature hold us back, keep us from loving Jesus, following him, embracing him as we ought.

Or think about this: Where would we fit into the Passion Narrative if it were unfolding in our midst today? Would we be one of his disciples struggling to stay loyal to our Lord when we saw him threatened by religious and public officials? Would we be the Judas or Peter who turned their backs on Jesus at his time of greatest need, or his Blessed Mother Mary and beloved disciple John who stayed with him at the foot of the cross, until the very end.

Think about it. Who is Jesus for you? What does he mean for you? How has he changed your life? 

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, in these holy days of Holy Week, “three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.” May we willingly embrace thy passion and death so that we may also merit thy resurrection. Amen.

The Rhode Island Catholic first published this article on March 22, 2018

Bishop Thomas J Tobin is the Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.