As I mentioned in my previous post, “Jesus Lady” is a nickname I was given at the hospital. It happened a few years ago, when I was called to the room of a very sick pediatric patient. They asked me to give voice to their prayer and I did so the best I knew how, after asking them specifically what they wanted me to pray for and what their beliefs were. When I returned to the room the next night to check on the child, he was, to everyone’s surprise, doing much better. As I was leaving the hospital the following morning, I heard someone yell from across the parking lot, “Hey, Jesus Lady!” I turned to see the child’s father, smiling and giving me the thumbs up. “Great job!” he said. I laughed and waved off the compliment, feeling that whatever good had been done, it was certainly not within my power to do it. (If I did have that power, I’d make sure every patient I prayed for made a full recovery, and I can assure you that is NOT what always happens.) A few of my friends on staff heard this exchange, and teasingly called me Jesus Lady for a long time after that. Some of them still do.
Jesus. As the hymn says, “There’s something about that name.” In our culture, at least, it gets spoken all the time, as a swear word, an expression of dismay, a sign of devotion, a cry for help. It is a loaded word, to say the least, and means so many different things to different people. Reading through the New Testament, you can pick your Jesus (and we all do). Is he fierce? Meek? Dangerous? Compassionate? Wise? Uncertain? Powerful? Fearful? Peacemaker? Conqueror? The answer is yes, to all of them, depending on which biblical writer you ask and when (because even the writers of the Bible had theologies that developed over time, as most of us do) and probably depending on what kind of mood Jesus was in that day! Yes, I believe Jesus had moods. How could he be fully human without them? According to Mark’s gospel, it even seems that he got cranky when he was hungry, and cursed a fig tree for not having fruit when he needed it. I love it when Jesus is so relatable, and I have cursed a few drive-thrus for not being open when I was on late night road trips.
There are other moments of relatability in the earthly life of Jesus that resonate with me as a chaplain. Sometimes, I may focus on the powerful Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead, or the compassionate Jesus who wept over Jerusalem, or the welcoming Jesus who defended Mary of Bethany when she sat down as one of his disciples, or the death-conquering Jesus who emerged from the tomb, or other Jesuses still. But in the hospital, I most often feel the presence of the Jesus who was overwhelmed with sorrow in Gethsemane, then suffered and died at Calvary. If I really am the Jesus Lady, this is the Jesus to whom my presence usually bears witness, because this is the Jesus I believe comes alongside my patients in their own suffering. In their darkest moments, they need someone who understands, someone who has been there. To some degree I know what it is to suffer pain and loss, and I do my best to cultivate empathy, but there comes a point when I can go no further. It is then more than ever that I entrust my patients — all of them — to the God who became flesh in Jesus. He has known the fear of impending death, the agony of mortal wounds, even the darkness of the grave, and so I trust him to walk with my patients to the very end, and beyond. With some of these patients, I may never talk about Jesus — they may not even believe in Jesus, and I have been taught how to minister to those of many other religions or no religion at all — but I serve them out of who I am, and one of the many things I am is a Jesus-follower.
Jesus makes me uncomfortable sometimes (though not nearly as often as some of his followers do), and other times trying to be a disciple seems so difficult that I just want to give up. There are days when I fear I have been led astray after some pseudo-Jesus of my own making and lost sight of the real one. Other days I am overwhelmed and ask why I keep trying. I always come around to the same answer, which is really a question. In the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus had said some things that made his disciples uncomfortable, enough so that many of them stopped following him, we are told. So Jesus turned to his closest friends, his inner circle, and asked, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter asked the question I often find myself asking: “Lord, to whom would we go?”
Even with all my discomfort and all my wrongheadedness about who Jesus might be, for better or worse (and I think it’s mostly better) there is no one else like him. There is something utterly unique about him. I may not always be able to put my finger on it, but something in me says that whatever the unspoken and unspeakable needs of our souls may be, Jesus is the one who can meet them. That’s why I seek him, and will keep on seeking him, even when it feels like a wild goose chase or a game of blind man’s bluff. And that’s why, even though it’s a heavy title to wear, I can’t help but smile when I get called Jesus Lady.