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?