He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is” (Albert Schweitzer).

…their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16).

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Recently CNN/HLN reported that Bob Dylan was stopped last month by police after someone called the authorities to report a “suspicious” man who might be a prowler. Apparently, Dylan, clad in a jacket with the hood up, was taking a walk in the rain before a performance and was looking in the windows of vacant houses for sale. The 24 year-old police officer who questioned him recognized his name when he gave it, but Dylan had no ID to prove who he was. The young woman only believed the legendary singer was who he claimed to be when they drove to his tour bus and everyone testified to his identity (see http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2009/08/17/outlaw-blues-bob-dylan-stopped-by-cops-after-suspicious-walk/).

It seems incredible to me that someone would look at that face we have been seeing since the ‘60s and not know it belonged to Bob Dylan. But then, the disciples failed to recognize Jesus on several occasions. Even Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener on Easter Day (John 20:14,15).

If you’re wondering why I’m spending time on a story about Bob Dylan, it’s because I see in it some clues about the difficulties people may have recognizing Jesus for who he is. It also helps us understand how the Church might better carry out the task of helping the world believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be.

First, Dylan was in a hood, mysterious and, to the caller, “suspicious.” Christ was once shrouded in mystery (“veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” as the hymn says). But now the mystery has been revealed (Romans 16:25,26; Ephesians 1:9 and elsewhere), and we are to make it known. Yet I wonder if we in the Church do not keep Christ hidden behind our jargon and ritual and most of all, by our inaction. The way people see the face of Christ is in our faces, feel his touch is through our touch, experience his welcome is through our welcome. If Christ is unknown, it is because we have stayed behind our walls, whether of stone or of fear, keeping him hidden. And when we have ventured out, we have not “lowered our hoods,” as it were, in order that the world may see the shining glory of Christ in us. Yet such revelation is precisely our calling. As the Scripture says: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Second, the young woman who questioned the rock star had little experience with him. She knew his name, but that was it. Given her generation, probably she was not particularly familiar with “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Positively 4th St.” If she had watched “Battlestar Galactica” on TV, she would have heard “All Along the Watchtower” several times, but may not have known it was written by Dylan. I doubt if she had seen a concert by, or read an article about, the singer.

What experience have our neighbors had with us as believers? Are we out and about, visible, involved, always available and helping when some need presents itself or there is some way we can contribute to the good of the community? And how is our public involvement perceived? The Church is to be the visible demonstration of what God intends for all humankind, the presence of Christ. Does our behavior lead others to think that Jesus was intolerant, judgmental, prejudiced, narrow, hurtful, and concerned with institutional maintenance and rules above all? Or do we reveal what our Lord was really like, the Jesus to whom the Scriptures testify—winsome; caring; concerned with the vulnerable and the marginalized; impatient with injustice and self-righteousness but helpful to those who admitted their need; and most of all, willing to give himself even for those who hated him? Encountering us, will people say "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” (Gandhi)? Or will their experience of Christ through us be positve and winning, a true reflection of our Savior?

Finally, the police officer eventually believed Dylan was who he claimed to be when those traveling with him bore witness to his identity. Of course, that is the key task of the Church: to bear witness. “And you shall be my witnesses,” commanded and promised Jesus (Acts 1:8). If we keep quiet, if our lives are not authentic representations of our Lord’s life, then he will remain as one unknown.

But God forbid that should happen. Let us tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Let us live as faithful disciples, truly following the Way (Acts 9:2).

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

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