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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“The devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape.”—Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

 

“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.”—Jesus

 

“You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!”—2 Timothy 3:1-5

 

I’m used to serving trays made of plastic that look at first glance as if they are sterling silver or at least shiny aluminum. We have some, and they come in handy. But until about a month ago I had never seen forks and spoons designed to fool the eye in the same way.

 

Susan and I were browsing through a chain drug store, having found the item we came in for, but on the lookout for something else we couldn’t do without. I happened to look to my left at the end of an aisle, and there with the usual white plastic utensils were others colored silver, with fluted handles. If you or I saw those on a dinner table, we wouldn’t know they were fake until we picked them up and felt the lack the heft or tried to handle a thick steak, only to have the utensil shatter in our hand.

 

In other words, if something is such a good fake that we can’t tell right away, we must judge its authenticity by experience. With plastic place settings, it doesn’t take much. But figuring out whether a colleague, a family member or a politician is on the level is sometimes very difficult. Some folks are so practiced at hypocrisy and lying that they can pull one over on just about everybody.

 

There’s the business executive that puts Bible verses on his email signature line, but is a pathological liar, spinning every bad situation and failure as someone else’s fault. Otherwise savvy businesspeople fall for his excuses and will not heed the pleas of a few to check out the facts. Or consider the teenage boy who charms not only his girlfriend, but her parents and grandparents, and seems the nicest kid in the world. But he is secretly involved in a relationship with another young woman of low morals. The young man manages this act for sometime, so skilled is he at deception.

 

If there’s any one quality that separates the fakes from the genuine articles, I believe, once again, it’s heft. You can tell a plastic knife from a sterling silver one by the weight of the real thing; what it’s made of it gives it substance. Just so, it is the weightiness of someone’s life that reveals what he or she is really made of—the strength of his character, the vulnerability of her spirit, the lengths they will go to help others and do the right thing. Quoting Bible verses or exuding charm, flashing a broad smile or beguiling others with a winning personality can be the manipulative tactics of the demonic. We have to look at what people do when they think no one is watching, what they say when they are unaware a microphone is on, whom they befriend and what causes win their hearts. That’s what reveals a genuinely good person, who when refined like silver, will stand the test.

 

© 2008 Tom Cheatham