Jesus: "Tender, Luminous, Demanding"

In her poem “Maybe,” Mary Oliver speaks of Jesus calming the storm at sea. She uses three words to describe him: tender, luminous, and demanding. I was intrigued by her word choice. As I reflected on what these words could mean, I came up with this:

Jesus was tender. Who could deny that? Even a cursory reading of the gospel reveals his tenderness. Jesus speaks kindly to people—especially to women and the poor. He touches the sick, feeds the hungry, is moved to compassion, plays with children, weeps for the loss of a good friend. He speaks tenderly too, underscoring the importance of faith and love, thus giving his listeners hope.

Jesus was luminous. Luminous can mean many things: emitting light, radiant, gleaming, enlightening. One sign of Jesus’ luminosity was his ability to attract a wide range of individuals. He was 100% approachable. He drew people to himself almost effortlessly. Jesus was so luminous that when he invited ordinary fishermen to follow him, they willingly left their boats and nets upon the shore and followed him. Women risked their reputations by speaking with him in public. Wherever he went, crowds flocked to him not merely for cures, but also just to catch a glimpse of him and listen to his words.

Jesus also formed deep relationships with individuals: Peter, John, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene. People seemed to enjoy just being in his company, sensing he was more than meets the eye. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus said, after being in his presence for only a short time, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?” I imagine many people felt that way after an encounter with Jesus.

Jesus was demanding. Jesus was no namby-pamby. He was no weakling, no overly sentimental guy. As tender and luminous as he was, he was also demanding. He did not say, “Take up your cushion and follow me.” He said, “Take up your cross.” His parable of the last judgment does not say, “Just take care of yourself.” No, he demands of his followers concrete acts of compassion and justice: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned. His Beatitudes do not say we will find God in affluence and power, in complete satisfaction, in joy only, in being accepted by everyone. No, he demands that we find God even in places we are tempted to think God is absent: in our poverty, in our weakness, in our hungering, in our mourning, and even in being insulted or excluded.

At the end of her poem, Oliver says this: Jesus was “a thousand times more frightening than the killer sea.” Why was Jesus frightening? Because through his tenderness, luminosity, and demands, Jesus has the power to transform our lives forever.

Some questions for reflection:

How can I be more tender in my words and actions at home, at work, and everywhere?

Have I ever met someone I would describe as luminous?

Is Jesus demanding of me? Or have I tamed him or watered down his teachings?

Since Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, I chose this simple “Lenten Song” by Michael John Poirier:

Are you doing anything special for Lent? Would you like to share your thoughts with us–about Lent, this reflection, the song?


  1. Kathleen on February 12, 2018 at 5:15 am

    Sr. Melannie,

    What a beautiful reflection as we enter the season of Lent!

    I have known someone who was luminous. She has gone home to be with Jesus but our parish community still recalls her memory fondly. She had that tenderness that you mentioned of Jesus. It was a blessing to have in our lives.


  2. Beverly on February 12, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Three adjectives to consider.They all make sense in their description of Jesus. I have never thought of of the description of luminous…but it makes perfect sense. Loved the song and the video. Loved the picture of Jesus holding a young child with the words “I love you” off to the side. This image brings me joy! Thank you!

  3. Jean on February 12, 2018 at 8:57 am

    Thank you Sister Melannie.

  4. Jean Canatsey on February 12, 2018 at 9:40 am

    I know Jesus is demanding that I be more tender in my words and actions at home with a relative who lives with us. I know this and yet I’m not responsive to his demands. Help me, Jesus, to listen during these 40 days and 40 nights…….

  5. Beverly Palumbo, RSM on February 12, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Beautiful….so gentle. Happy Valentine….Blessed and Happy Lent. God
    bless and through out this season may we ‘Glorify God with our lives…’

  6. John on February 12, 2018 at 11:54 am

    This is a beautiful reflection and I loved the lyrics to the song, “For these forty days.” I am drawn to taking more time to be silent, to allow for more quiet space in my life to enable me to hear God and to more fully be a courageous lover of the present moment that is all we ever have and yet I so often waste it on stuff that has no life. Thank you.

  7. Annie on February 12, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    Lately I’ve been trying to choose Lenten practices that make a difference in our world. I like the song’s emphasis on walking “the path of sacrifice,” something that many Americans steer clear of. I am not great on sacrifice either, but when I see that my actions contribute to suffering, I know I need to make a change — and not just for 40 days.

    Lent’s big three are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so I decided to do my best to: 1. Fast from palm products, (which are linked to modern day slavery, unfair wages, child labor, species extinction, deforestation, climate change, unsafe work environments, and a host of other problems). 2. Pray for all creation suffering from our demand for palm products, and 3. Give time, talent, and/or treasure to efforts striving to combat this injustice. (sign petitions, donate, spread the word, etc.)

    F0r anyone who wants to join me in doing this, reading ingredients is the best way to check products, but some info is here: Please note: the RSPO label cannot be trusted!

  8. Pamela on February 13, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Sister Melannie- I would certainly describe you as luminous! I so enjoy your weekly blog. Thank you.

  9. Dorothy Janofsky on February 14, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Thank you, Sister Melanie

  10. Rose Anne on February 15, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you for the beautiful reflection. As I read your description of Jesus My dear husband came into my thoughts. He was the most Christ like person I have ever known. Beautiful song. You are a blessing to us all Melannie!❤️

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