Tony Soprano and Holy Thursday

As many of you know, I hail for the great state of New Jersey. And when you grow up in the Garden State, there is a rich assortment of personalities that have shaped the culture and the history of New Jersey for generations. Singers, politicians, actors… a wide variety of people who have contributed to this large tapestry we know as American culture. People to look up to, people to model one’s life around. And one of my greatest heroes from my home state is… Tony Soprano.

(Okay, Bruce Springsteen is REALLY my hero from New Jersey. Tony just works better for the direction I’m heading, so just go with me for a bit…)

And I don’t know about you, but I often have times in my life when I don’t always feel like the strongest person in the world. Many of us have probably had the experience when we feel downright weak. But that’s what makes Tony seem so appealing for me… NO ONE messes with Tony. And sure, sometimes Tony’s methods might be morally questionable… but hey, you can’t deny that the guy gets the job done. And addition to his efficiency, his strength, his ability to control events, Tony was always SMART. The guy knew how to smell a rat.

There was this great episode in the beginning of Season Five where Robert Loggia makes a guest appearance as a mobster who has just been released from prison. Tony has this dream where he is surrounded by the members of his crew at the dinner table and is telling a joke. In the dream, everyone is laughing but Robert Loggia. Based on this dream, Tony intuits that Robert Loggia is going to betray him and do him in. After the dream, arrangements are quickly made to get Loggia’s character out of the picture and back into jail.

If we attend services on Holy Thursday, we are going to hear another story that is in many ways similar to Episode One, Season Five of The Sopranos, but it is also different. Like Tony Soprano, Jesus is at the dinner table surrounded by his crew. Like Tony, Jesus knew who was going to betray him. Like Tony, Jesus had the power to stop his traitor from betraying him. But UNLIKE Tony Soprano, Jesus let the traitor go. As to whether Jesus was telling jokes, the Gospels are silent.

But think about it; Jesus not only let Judas go free, he let him start the cycle of events that would ultimately lead to his earthly demise! When Tony had Robert Loggia’s character eliminated, Tony only suspected that he would be betrayed. Jesus KNEW he would be betrayed… betrayed to the most humiliating and painful death imaginable. Albeit, Jesus knew that this death was part of a larger plan, but still… Jesus LET himself be victimized.

There are so many reflections to be made over the next few days about Jesus’ love for us. But the story of Judas at the Last Supper also reminds me that I need to check on my priorities. Because while I may want to be like Tony Soprano, I need to be like Jesus. While I may want to be a person who exercises strength in order to protect myself, I need to be a person who makes ourselves vulnerable in order to benefit other people. While others of us may want to be a person who is able to outwit the next person, we need to be more like people who do not play the scheming game… if only to provide a witness to a world in which we don’t have to constantly live in mutual suspicion of one another.

As I say this of course, I do hear the naïveté. Memories of the times when my guard was let down, only to experience an upper cut to the jaw. But this is where I also remember that the episode between Jesus and Judas is only the beginning of the story. And unlike Tony Soprano, Jesus story does not end with a black screen…