One cold night last winter, I was with some friends
playing a game where statements on cards got us thinking about
life. One card said, —Name the person you admire most.— Everyone
mentioned mothers, fathers and Mother Teresa. But Steven, a
very thoughtful friend, took a long pause and then said, —Jesus.—
Of course! Why didn—t we think of that?
Steven—s response made such simple sense and pointed
out a very important fact: Jesus is a person! Jesus is human!
Yes, he definitely belongs on the top of the list of people
we should admire as role models.
Steven reminded us that Jesus is the center of
everything, yet how often we take him for granted. We forget
that the world is a completely different place, a completely
better place, because Jesus walked on this earth. Christians
even date time from the moment of Jesus— birth. It—s 1997 A.D.,
or anno Domini, which means —in the year of the Lord.—
But most of the time we forget how central Jesus
is. And yet, without Jesus, who are we? Who would our mothers
and fathers—even Mother Teresa herself—be without Jesus?
Not Human by Half
In this Youth Update, let—s look at Jesus.
This is exactly what Pope John Paul II has asked us to do this
year as we prepare for the coming new millennium in the Church—s
life. I—d like you especially to consider Jesus the human being.
Now, I—m not saying that Jesus wasn—t God. In
a way we can—t understand with our own minds, Jesus is 100 percent
human at the same time that he—s 100 percent divine. Jesus is
not a 50/50 person, half human and half divine. He doesn—t have
multiple personalities. He—s not Superman or just a great guy.
Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, and he—s God, together
with his Father and the Holy Spirit.
But I—m asking you to concentrate on Jesus as
a human hero. Let Jesus be a model for your own human qualities.
That can be a first step in building a personal relationship
with Jesus who is like you in all things except sin.
Human, Yet a Hero
Just because Jesus didn—t commit sins, however,
doesn—t mean that he—s some frightening, far-away idol. In the
Middle Ages, in fact, Christians often saw Jesus as a very approachable
God precisely because he is so much like them—and us.
In friends, neighbors and strangers medieval Christians
saw the human face of Jesus. More than just recognizing the
human Jesus, however, they took the next step and tried hard
to imitate Jesus by literally clothing the naked, feeding the
hungry and housing the homeless.
Pope John Paul II also stresses that every single
thing Jesus did was meant to teach us to be more like him when
he wrote, —The whole of Christ—s life was a continual teaching:
his silences, his miracles, his gestures, his prayer, his love
for people, his special affection for the little and the poor....—
Because Jesus lived in our human world, he used
everyday examples to teach. Asked to explain faith, for instance,
he turned to his mother Mary—s kitchen: Faith is like the yeast
that makes dough rise and gives life to bread.
Do you also look for God—s hand at work in your
world? Ever notice how God often sends messages through the
You—re sitting there thinking about how lonely
you are when your dog comes up and sticks its face in your hand
to be petted. A message: You are loved and you feel that
in the simplest, most ordinary way. That might be a corny example,
but let it challenge you.
How can you pay attention to God in your everyday
life, just as Jesus saw the model of faith in his mother—s rising
bread? If you open your eyes to God in the details, you—ll be
acting just like Jesus.
The Roller Coaster of Everyday Life
Jesus had an everyday life with ups and downs.
He ate, slept and did chores. Like most teenagers, Jesus occasionally
made his parents worry. In one case, they couldn—t find him
after the family visited Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-51). Mary and
Joseph sound kind of panicked. This is typical of any parents,
even if their particular teenager was finally found teaching
in the Temple instead of coming home late or cutting class.
The Gospels don—t tell us what he did in his teens.
I always wondered about that. Did he talk back to his parents?
Did he have fun? Was he ever grounded? Did he have a curfew?
I suspect that Jesus was well-behaved, but that might not rule
out some misunderstandings or problems.
We do know that Jesus had some tough moments
such as that shocking scene when he throws some shady characters
out of the Temple. Instead of respecting the Temple as a holy
place, many merchants and shoppers were turning it into the
What does Jesus do? He expresses his anger big-time
and trashes their tables of money and products. Jesus got very
angry—for a purpose, of course—to teach that the Temple should
be a house of prayer.
How about your ups and downs? Have you caused
your parents some worry (even without meaning to)? Do you struggle
with juggling a job, school, a team or a volunteer activity?
Have you snapped or lashed out at people? Well, Jesus knows
just how you feel, so you can look to him for advice.
Not a Loner
Like you, Jesus had friends. He went on walks
and partied with them. He cried when his friend Lazarus died.
Very often we see Jesus taking the time for his friends, listening
to them when they were happy, sad or confused. True, Jesus healed
people and forgave sins in a way that only God can. But Jesus
is still a model as a human friend.
You can act the way Jesus did just by listening
to a worried or lonely friend. Or maybe you can go out and help
people you don—t even know, like the medieval Christians who
saw Jesus among anyone who needed a hand.
Jesus said that whenever you help another human
being in need, you—re helping him. So when you give a bowl of
stew to a homeless person in a shelter or listen to your sister
talk about a lost boyfriend this weekend, you—ll be looking
Jesus right in the eye.
But despite Jesus— great love for his friends,
they turned on him by running away when he was arrested and
crucified. Peter, who was always talking about how strong his
faith and friendship were, even denied knowing Jesus that night.
Peter worried about saving himself rather than sticking up for
his friend Jesus when it really counted.
Jesus must have felt abandoned, maybe even angry
with such friends, the way you do when friends don—t stand behind
you if things get tight.
Picture this: Everyone in your class thinks someone—s
getting picked on unfairly. They all say they—ll stand up to
the bully but they elect you to speak for them. When the time
comes to challenge the bully, though, none of your friends are
standing behind you. It—s just you and the big guy, all alone.
In that moment, you—re right in the Garden of
Gethsemane with Jesus on Holy Thursday. He—s stressing out about
what—s going to happen to him next and his friends just fall
asleep! You can tell Jesus is hurt when he says to them, —Couldn—t
you even stay awake one hour with me?— (see Matthew 26:40).
We should remember, though, that Jesus forgave
his friends despite the pain they caused him. Jesus looked beyond
their faults to see the goodness in their hearts.
Can we say we do the same with our friends when
they let us down? What would you do with those friends who backed
down when the bully stood up? They did wrong by you. Would you
forgive them? Could you forgive and forget?
Those are tough questions to answer. Acting like
Jesus is a challenge that takes guts.
Love Your Enemies?
Jesus had a lot of enemies who tried to trick
him. How did he deal with them? Jesus treated them with respect,
even though they didn—t show respect to him. He prayed for them,
At night, at Mass, or at grace before meals, can
you say that you—ve prayed for people you don—t like, for people
who got in your way yesterday or have a date with someone you
want to date, for people who obviously don—t like you and embarrassed
you today in a school corridor full of others who laughed at
To those who rejected him, Jesus simply continued
preaching. The Gospels don—t tell us if he was discouraged or
disappointed with his enemies, but he kept spreading the message
of God—s love. Most of the time, he seems to have gotten the
strength to continue by praying.
If you notice, Jesus prays and then acts, not
the other way around. To take just one example (Mark 1:35-38),
before he went out to talk to people about God, he woke up early
and prayed. Then he went on his way. Prayer is his rock, his
reservoir of faith and energy. Prayer keeps Jesus going. It
can refuel you as well.
Most amazing of all, Jesus suffered and died.
How did he deal with that? First of all, he didn—t want it.
In the Garden of Gethsemane he flat out asked his Father to
save him from pain and death. Have you ever tried to get out
of something you didn—t want to do or have happen to you? If
you have, you were one with Jesus because he went through the
But then Jesus prayed, —God—s will be done.— Jesus
put God the Father—s plan first, not his own, even though it
meant he would have to suffer a horrible death after hours of
physical punishment and public humiliation. For three hours,
he hung on a cross with nails in his hands and feet. He was
laughed at and ridiculed. He even cried out that his Father
had abandoned him.
Though it may seem odd to say, there—s comfort
in knowing that Jesus suffered as a human being. In a nursing
home not too long ago, a young priest was asked why a certain
elderly person had to suffer so much at the end of her life.
The priest answered by taking out a picture of Jesus hanging
on the cross.
—Whenever I ask that question,— he responded,
—I remember that Jesus suffered, too.— Can you say that you
suffer with Jesus for a greater good? Can you follow Jesus in
putting up with the disappointment of a poor grade, or the emotional
hurt of not being asked out to a dance, or being rejected by
the —in— crowd? Maybe you have to put up with these hurts so
that you can become a stronger person. As you grow to appreciate
the love you have, you can learn to love people who don—t
have anyone to love them.
So What If Jesus Forgave?
When I taught high school, one of my students
said, —So what? Big deal! Jesus was human but he was God, too.
He could put up with all that stuff.— O.K., let—s be honest.
You—re not God. You—re probably not going to face crucifixion.
But Jesus said we all have our own crosses to
bear, regardless of the form they take. So he is with us as
a fellow human being in —all that stuff,— whatever your cross
Look at the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus the human
being came pretty close to losing it! He had a tough time, no
doubt about it, and the next day Jesus really died—no make-believe
magic, no holograms. He truly suffered and died. But like Jesus
in the garden, we must put our faith and trust in God.
We have to put ourselves in God—s hands, as Jesus
put his human fears in his Father—s hands. Just as God helped
his Son overcome everyday and extraordinary difficulties, God
helps us in the very same way.
The message is very simple. It—s reassuring to
know that Jesus felt the very same emotions every human person
feels. By seeing how Jesus reacted to good and bad times we
can try to follow his example. That way, we can become more
fully human in the best sense. We can follow Jesus, our human
role model and hero.
Finally, please remember that you—re not the first
young person to ask what difference Jesus makes to your own
human life. Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was.
When told some thought he was Elijah, a prophet, or John the
Baptist, Jesus asked them a very personal question. —Who do
you say that I am?—
Jesus asks us the same question. Who is Jesus
to us? What must we do to follow the example of this human hero?
If Jesus were a teenager today, where might he be living?
Perhaps Jesus would be living in a ghetto. Perhaps
he would hang out around soup kitchens where people without
other support sometimes find themselves. Maybe the media would
go crazy with stories of his miracles. They—d be likely to miss
the point that he came to heal our souls, not our physical bodies.
After all, how would you react to a man saying he was
The personal challenge to the disciples is the
same challenge which Jesus makes to us. Each of us has to embrace
the Second Person of the Trinity by following the example of
Jesus the man.
So the next time you—re living one of those very
human moments of joy or sadness, happiness or disappointment,
love or anger, trying to decide which way to follow, remember
what my friend Steven taught me.
Jesus is the man to admire, the hero to follow.
Ask yourself what Jesus would do in your situation. He—s been