Janina Graves is the Student Ministry Coordinator at The Wesley Foundation at OSU, as well as the Founder of the I AM Program. She is passionate about storytelling and expressive arts. She considers herself blessed to have listened up close and personal to the life stories of hundreds of OSU students from Oklahoma and around the world.
So much of college is about titles, credentials, and achievements…
Is this good? Is this bad? I’m not sure.
But, I have been wrestling a lot lately with Jesus’ public display of… (nothing)… at the end of his life. Jesus’ career had taken off… his ministry had just begun… he was at the forefront of an up and coming religious, socio-political movement.
And, here he is… Jesus the Christ in front of a crowd with an opportunity to “speak to power,” to “reveal his glory” and he might as well have just said nothing. (I’m gonna take some liberties here and just be me, so please keep in mind I’m not a theologian or a historian).
“Are you the king of the Jews?” – Pilate
(Read: who are you? are you who they say you are?!)
“You have said so.” – Jesus
(Read: I am whoever you say I am…)
And, there it is. “What?” you ask.
Jesus’ “big moment” – dozens, perhaps hundreds are watching: politicians, religious leaders, community members, family and friends – and, he simply concedes in the most inconspicuous way to the half-assed observation (mocking?) of another. Wait. WHAAAAT??!!!
I have to admit. This part of the story upsets me. It bothers my Valedictorian, Outstanding Senior, yadda yadda soul. Where’s his moment of glory?
The story gets worse. Jesus submits himself to a process of public humiliation, physical torture, and eventual death in one of the worst ways…
“But, wait,” you say, “he rose from the dead! His moment of glory comes later!”
Well, I don’t know about you… but, going through all of that for a few lousy private and public appearances afterwards doesn’t seem to fit the bill of the “price he paid.”
I’m not shaming you, I’m not trying to get us to “feel bad” or to wallow in the “sin that put him there…”
But, I am saying… I. Don’t. Like. It.
Based on his performance and audience participation, I doubt that he would have received a “Best of” award or earned all 50 out of 50 on a rubric. He most definitely didn’t earn an A or pass the qualifying exam… particularly by those who held the authority. What exactly was Jesus’ title? His credentials…. achievements? Depends on who you ask.
All I know is… he didn’t seem to care.
I wrestle with this question… why do I want to follow Jesus? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus? For as many years as I’ve understood this story (or this version of it, anyway), I’ve never been able to understand how people can so eagerly claim Jesus as Lord. Personally, I always doubt how well they know the story. When people tell me, “I just want to follow Jesus…” I quite frankly want to ask… “but, do you know what happened to him?”
Maybe I’m less “Christian” than others. Or, maybe I just don’t want to suffer or surrender. Maybe I just have a bigger ego or like self-preservation.
I guess what I’m trying to say is… I believe that following Jesus leads to death. (No, I don’t believe being Christian requires martyrdom or an unhealthy masochism.) But, again I do believe that following Jesus leads to death. At the very least, the death of the value of external validation… public recognition… defensiveness or self-preservation. Following Jesus leads to death.
So, why do I want to follow Jesus? And, what does that have to do with college?
Well, I think I follow Jesus because death is inevitable. It’s hard-wired into the way that the world works. Think about creation. Death is everywhere. And, yet… so is life.
I’m not saying I think it’s right or that I’m okay with this narrative. I told you… I really struggle with this story.
But, back to the whole college thing… those titles… those credentials… those achievements… it’s not that they don’t matter. It’s that they don’t go with you.
Each relationship, each opportunity, each experience is re-defined by who we are and how others come to know us. We don’t carry those things from one community to another… and, if we do, they are of little value, if any. Say to the street artist in Cartagena, “I’m a Top Ten Senior!” He will look at you strangely until you say, “Me llamo Janina.” These distinctions, these definitions, these categorizations are all contextual… and, more importantly, they’re completely based on the community in which you find yourself.
Maybe Jesus did care who Pilate believed him to be. Maybe he did care who others believed him to be. But, perhaps he knew that the value of the acknowledgement was not his own self-promotion, but rather the submission of himself to a community who would later witness to what they had seen and heard. Who would they say that he was? How would they live their life after he was gone? Perhaps these are the more important questions… and, perhaps in the answers to these questions are the more meaningful reflections of “who is Jesus?”
So, who are you? Who would others say you are? And, not the ones you’ve spent your time trying to convince or trying to impress… how about the ones who have no stake in you, who could care less whether you live or die? Because fortunately (and, unfortunately, if I’m honest), my identity… perhaps even my salvation, intersects with who I am in their midst.
“Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing…”
(Mic drops here).
I don’t know about you. But, that sounds a lot to me like the God I hope for… the God I yearn for… the God I hope I’m coming to know. That just might be where I believe that following Jesus also leads to life. Not an easy one. But one which lives with the ridiculous hope that death will not have the last word. Hate will not have the last word. Because Jesus may not have been dead yet, but he was already coming back to life… and, perhaps more importantly, he was already bringing us back to life.
Who do you say that I am?
(Peter) You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
And that, my friends, is an achievement worth striving for… the acknowledgment, the replication of a hope which was propagated by a stubborn, scared hypocrite. Hmmm… sounds a lot like me. And, I daresay, sounds a lot like you.
So, now is the time when I can unashamedly say that I believe deeply in resurrection (and, I’m bankin’ on it) because I have a lot more “dying” to do. And, I daresay, we have a lot more “dying” to do. Thanks be to God. Amen.