Jesus and I
Talk by Tom Baker
Summer, 2013, Unity Renaissance Church
I have often been embarrassed at Jesus. Jesus loves you, Jesus is your friend, Jesus is your judge, Jesus died so that you could live. Always shouted. Like car commercials. The meek will inherit the earth, one day only, don't miss it, if you're meek and want your inheritance act now before it's too late!!!! I wanted to have a respectful relationship with Jesus. Quiet and even a little formal, not so tied to a gratitude for his dying for me; more a gratitude for his teaching me. Thanks Jesus for trying so hard with me. Thanks for teaching me, how to love and forgive and, most of all, let go. Thank you for teaching me to be quiet inside my own mind and heart, outside of the noise of the mind.
Let me tell you a story about Jesus. Jesus Now. When I was in college I drove a cab for three days. I got fired for getting lost. So many people do not know where they live, especially when intoxicated. Sometimes they just can't figure out how to get home from where the cab picks them up. I'm still a little defensive about it. Anyhow I picked up a prostitute at the airport. (A woman who practiced prostitution). When you drive a cab people talk to you like a bar tender or a priest. They trust you because you're anonymous. In other words you're a nobody. They can say what they want. So Betty the prostitute (who practices prostitution) starts talking to me about Jesus. She said, "My minister doesn't like me because of what I do, but Jesus, he loves me for who I am, the me inside this body I make my living from. My minister says I'm going to hell, but I know different. Jesus loved us whores, best friend was a whore. So Jesus loves Betty and is proud of it, even if my minister is embarrassed. That's his problem." I told that incident in church and a woman called me in the afternoon and complained. She said, "Father, I was insulted by your story this morning. I ride cabs all the time, in fact I take a cab to Mass and I'll have you know that I'm not a prostitute. I'm an upstanding woman of impeccable moral rectitude." I assured her she had misunderstood me and that I was misunderstanding her. But that's Jesus. He has embarrassing friends who tell him everything and he loves them anyway. He's the one who understands, who gets you when no one else does, and who loves you fiercely, Jesus enables us to make eye contact with God. And the eye contact is safe. Jesus didn't stare you down, he invited you in. He said in effect: there's always room for you. The only catch is that you make room for others as I have made room for you. So I have to make room for the woman with impeccable moral rectitude, (it will be joyful to make room) for the woman who was afraid of being thought badly of.
There was one place I had to talk about Jesus directly and that was the confessional.
My pastor and I had a confessional competition. His idea was the most confessions possible and mine was the quality of the confession. We each had a key hole in the confessional that we could look out of to see how long the line was. I secretly wanted both to be mine: big line, classic confession. I could imagine people talking among themselves: No priest hears a confession like father Tom: encouraging, decisive, compassionate. The Catholic Church's number one confessor. Bumper sticker: My priest is the #1 confessor at St. Gabriel Catholic church. I thought of people tacking testimonials to my confessional: Best confession ever, I really will go and sin no more, Was that Jesus in there or what?, A long line but worth the wait.
How would Jesus hear confessions? Several things came to mind. Kind of popped in there. I think he first of all would insist that the sinner was not a sinner after all, one who had made mistakes perhaps, but not labeled anything permanently. Sinner was like a tattoo, you had to live with it the rest of your life. Jesus would have removed the tattoo.
Jesus would also identify with the person going to confession and then ask what was right about the person rather than what was wrong: "I've had trouble with that too and how did you show love this week?" I tried it. I thought the line would get shorter; it got longer. People wanted to hear what father was having trouble with this week (It was exactly how I sinned) and they started trying to do loving things so the good list was longer than the bad list. One little girl who said her sins were giving her mother headaches started doing random acts of kindness, one of which was bake a cake with little capsules of Tylenol in it. It was a mess, but love is often pretty messy.
One of the things I learned early as a priest was to ask Jesus to go first. If I was visiting someone I would ask Jesus to go in first, to prepare the way. Before I learned this I visited a woman in the nursing home. It was my very first day as a priest and I was ordered by my pastor to visit the sick so off I went. I figured a church topic would be a good thing to talk about so I came in the room, greeted the woman who greeted me back and turned and got a chair that I set at the end of the bed. I started in on the mystery of the holy trinity and on the wonderous fact that there were 3 persons of the trinity, father, son, and holy spirit and at the same time there was one God. Amazing. A theological miracle. As I talked I realized that the woman was not responding to me but eye contact was excellent. Then I realized she was not blinking. She was dead. She had evidentally died when I turned my back to get the chair. I felt very alone in the room with the deceased woman and remembered I had forgotten to invite Jesus to go before me. I vowed never to forget again, but I often forgot, relying on my own words and wit and presence and then feeling very alone as if the warm, safe, loving essence of things was gone. What I've concluded is that Jesus, as our elder brother and teacher, does not want to be where we don't want him, that he waits to be called on, and will not offer help if he is not asked. He does very little healing in the Gospels unless asked. In studying A Course in Miracles over the years I have found that the ego's main defense against God is making us forget. The Course has you remember a short affirmation for each day, yet over the years my resistance to this has grown into a kind of ego-induced dementia when it comes to holy ideas. I can't remember even the simplest affirmation, even God created us like Himself, a forgetfulness that mirrors our larger forgetfulness of Divine Love.
Even if I forget Jesus, it looks like he remembers me. I have gotten used to Jesus inspired thoughts and ideas. When you talk to Jesus it's called prayer, when Jesus talks to you it called psychosis. One time I was driving to the hospital to visit a woman and had the strongest urge to stop and get some flowers for her. I walked into the florist shop and they were having a sale on yellow roses. I bought one yellow rose for thirty-five cents and headed to the hospital. When I walked in the woman I was visiting began to cry and then to laugh and cried some more. I had never had such an effect on anyone and so, alarmed, I asked if anything was wrong. She replied, "No father, nothing is wrong. Everything is right. You brought the rose. I must be OK." It turned out that she was having tests done to see if she had cancer and she had prayed to St. Therese of the Little Flower to be healed and the sign of her answering your prayer was to receive a yellow rose. As a convert to Catholicism I didn't know about the Little Flower. I cautioned her to wait for the tests to come through, but she was confident in the rose. That Sunday she came to communion and gave me a yellow rose with the news that she was cancer free.
My confession for today is that I have a hard time loving Jesus. It's hard for me to love in the abstract. I've tried loving pictures and statues of Jesus but it just doesn't work. I've tried becoming devoted to the crucifix but I'm repulsed by the image of a man being tortured to death. I just can't work up a man crush on Jesus. What has worked for me is trusting Jesus. When I trust him to go before me it works, when I trust him to meet the people he introduces me to it works, when he gives me the words to say, it works. Things are different with Jesus in the room and really different with Jesus in my mind; there's a feeling of connection, a feeling of hope and the essential innocence of people is obvious. This is so embarrassing to say that I trust someone I don't really love, but Jesus assures me (which is also a little embarrassing to say) that it's OK. It's a mistake I can be forgiven for. He has no doubt had his moments too.
Jesus assumed that we all love one another, already. When he told his disciples to love one another he was reminding them to do what came natural to them. In this church you can see that natural love seeping through the shyness and defensiveness that we have imposed upon ourselves when we say we're not enough or we're broken and need fixing. Jesus had a way of reminding people of the health in them, the love in them, the wisdom in them, and especially the safety in them.
© Copyright Tom Baker 2013