Grandma and Jesus

By John Certalic,

Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee Bucks forward. The first time I heard his first name pronounced “Yahn-nis,” it took me back many years to my grandmother, because that is what she called me, “Yahn-nis.”

My grandmother came to America in 1908 as a twenty-year-old immigrant from Slovenia. She settled in Milwaukee, where over time she buried two husbands and one daughter. Through her broken English, she affectionately called me Janez, Slovenian for John, and pronounced “Yahn’-nis” just like the Milwaukee Bucks Greek basketball star. Both Janez and Giannis are equivalents to John in English.

As a child, my grandmother was the only adult who called my name with any degree of love or tenderness. “Oh, Janez,” she would say, with hands cupped to the sides of her smiling face whenever she saw me. I knew she loved me deeply and I have many fond memories of her. Though I was not related to her by blood, she loved me all the same.

But when Grandma’s name came up in family conversations growing up, it was always with biting criticism. I never saw what others in my family believed about her. While I don’t understand their disdain, I do understand how much my grandmother loved me, so I am going to stick with that.

People have divergent views of Jesus too. In John 10 Jesus talks about himself as the Good Shepherd, calling his sheep by name, a bit like my grandmother calling to me “Oh, Janez” in her Slovenian accent. Jesus is kind and loving, wanting the best for his sheep, the best for us. Yet there are people who don’t see Jesus this way at all. They say critical, hurtful things about him, similar to what some in my family said about Grandma. With her, I had to decide what I was going to believe – the criticisms of others or what I personally experienced with Grandma. I chose to believe the loving fruit that came from our relationship. Jesus invites us to do something similar with him. Develop a relationship with him to experience the love Jesus has for us.

“… believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand the Father is in me, and I am in the Father” (John 10:38).