Episode 1 of 5 in our new series, Knowing and Following Jesus.
A few months ago I was driving to the clinic – I had this terrible pain in my left leg – and while I was waiting at the traffic lights, a young man stepped in front of the car, as bold as brass if you please, and held out his palm in a gesture that could only mean one thing: STOP!
Well, I don’t normally pick up hitch-hikers but there was something about this guy – hard to put into words – but he just exuded trustworthiness. I couldn’t help but unlock the passenger door and gesture to him to hop in. He wasn’t much to look at – early 30s, long hair, sweatband round his head – but he just felt, well, safe. And that’s when things started to get a bit weird.
“Where to?” I asked him.
“Home,” he said.
“But I don’t know where you live.”
“No, your home.”
“But I’m on my way to see the doctor,” I protested.
“No need,” he said, cheerfully. “I think you’ll find that the pain in your leg has gone.”
Blow me, he was right! My leg felt perfect, and – this is the really weird bit – how did he know?
On the way home he told me his name was Josh, and he had nowhere to stay. So – I know it sounds crazy – but I offered to put him up for a few nights.
We stayed up late the first night watching telly. I suggested one of the adult channels, but he gave me a funny look. He said his Dad was a garden designer and he much preferred wildlife and nature programmes.
The next night I offered him a drink with supper. He said he’d have just the one glass of wine, but that I should go easy on the spirits. He’d read me right again – how did he know that a weakness for alcohol runs in my family?
Then there was the day I’d had a big row at work with my colleague Valerie, and came home grumbling bitterly. Yes, the spat was partly my fault but I was blowed if I was going to be the first one to make peace. I needed someone to vent my spleen on, and Josh was in the firing line. If he was taking my hospitality, he could jolly well take my side in this. Only he didn’t. Looked me straight in the eye and asked me if I was man enough to be the first to say sorry.
That was when I started to get suspicious. He was still wearing that sweatband, but occasionally it slipped out of line and I could see some spotty scars underneath. And on the back of each of his wrists, it looked like an old wound had healed.
Then Saturday came, and he said he’d have lunch ready when I got back. I enjoyed the morning at the bowling green and came home. Lunch was ready, as promised, but it turned out I wasn’t the only one joining him. He had not only invited Valerie – who I hadn’t apologised to yet – but also the lady across the street I never talk to; I think she was discharged from Whitchurch on one of those care-in-the-community schemes – and the Big Issue seller whose pitch is round the corner. In my house! Without asking!
I just about managed to keep my temper until the last guest had gone, but then I lost it, I really did. While Josh was busy doing the washing-up, I cleared out the walk-in cupboard under the stairs and waited for him to come out of the kitchen. Then, at exactly the right moment, I gave him a big shove and bolted the door.
Yes, I know who it is that I’ve locked in the closet. I’m still feeling a bit guilty about that. So I’ve put a table in front of the door with a nice bunch of flowers – changed every week, and I keep a candle burning there. When I walk past the door, I make a respectful bow in that direction. But I’m not opening that door. I’m not letting him out. If that man gets into my life again, it’s going to be far too disruptive. I don’t mind having Jesus with me each day, but I’m not going to let him interfere in my everyday life!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus stepped in front of a funeral procession, restored one life, and changed another forever. In today’s Second Reading, St Paul recalled how the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus, causing him to set off as a missionary without delay.
Each one of us here today knows something about Jesus. Part of what we know is right, but simplistic, because we learned it in childhood. Part of what we know is wrong, because we have learned it at second hand from people who found the real Jesus too annoying or challenging to embrace in full. And part of what we know is right – but leaves us room to go deeper. As the Ordinary Sundays unfold over the remainder of this Year of Faith, let’s take a fresh look at the real Jesus – the annoying Jesus, the challenging Jesus, the full picture of Jesus presented to us by the Gospels.
But be warned – when we look closely at Jesus we will be forced to make a choice – to push him into a closet where we can hide the parts of the message we find too much to bear, or a choice to live with him, in which case we will not find rest until we accept his invitation to change our life.
Acknowledgements: today’s story was largely inspired by a tale told by the Jesuit, Gerard W. Hughes, published in Gathered and Scattered and also in For God’s Sake – Unity. Also a nod in the direction of Joseph F. Girzone’s Joshua. ‘The annoying Jesus’ as found in a litany from the Iona Community. Clipart adapted from a file on clker.com.