No, the title ‘Where is Jesus?‘ isn’t a theological question, it’s a practical question. Let me explain by talking a lot more.
I follow Diana Butler Bass on Twitter – she is a Christian author, speaker and social commentator. Late last week she directed us to an opinion piece she had written on the CNN website which was cleverly titled, ‘The God of Love had a really bad week‘.
She began by describing her frustration while watching a news report of the ‘send her back’ chants at a Trump campaign rally. Knowing that most of his base are white evangelicals she writes that she suddenly blurted out at the TV, ‘Where did these people go to Sunday school?’ When her husband wondered what Sunday school had to do with it she reminded him of the song that had long been an anthem so many church kids had learned:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world
And really, shouldn’t if be that simple? Jesus. Love. Everybody. Period.
I know it. You know it.
A shocking number of Christians don’t know it.
Why don’t we, of all people, know who Jesus is and what he cares about? Where do we think he is?
Often I feel compelled on this website to apologize for Christians, to the point where I sometimes feel like I should apologize for my apologizing. Even the name of this blog is largely intended to point one of my fingers at the frail, false idols we continually invent for ourselves. In the strong tradition of many religious legalists before us we tend to feed our idolatry and defend our waywardness with clever, righteous arguments and self-logic. Make no mistake – the human mind (or should I say heart?) is a complex and defensive organ.
But when we put aside our excuses, purify our motives and care about truth with open hearts and minds, a hunger to truly find Jesus begins to seep in to our souls.
Just a couple of days ago I felt a need to pray about a spiritual chasm that was gnawing at my insides. I don’t specifically know why (I’m doing fine) but every once in awhile it happens that I just feel an exceptional need for more of God. I am always grateful when those moments occur because it means that I am hungry and still able to sense it and respond to it.
Which brings me back to Jesus. Where is he when the President’s supporters are chanting? Where is he when there is injustice? Where is he when my soul is crying out? If he is the Word (expression, revelation, face) of God, then obviously I need to look for him and hear from him, wherever he is. So, where is he?
Yes, I know that somehow he is with God interceding on our behalf, so that’s good, but remember we’re trying to set that theological stuff aside. It is also true that his Spirit is alive and well and operationally present in our world. But again, where is that, actually?
First of all, in one sense Jesus is right here. I strongly believe that he is with us as we live our moments of life and so to talk to him and listen for his voice should become a natural occurrence. No need for formal prayer times if he is with us all the time, right? Just talking and listening with our open hearts and minds.
I also find that the stories of Jesus in the bible are a resource for learning where he is now. I don’t mean that in the traditional ‘bible study’ sense but in a personal way. Reading about Jesus shows us the priorities, places, parables, people (notice the 4 ‘p’s – clever, right?) for when he was on earth.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ – Matthew 25:40-45 (NIV)
Hungry? Thirsty? Stranger? Least of these? Mother Theresa met Jesus in the slums of Calcutta. Henri Nouwen met Jesus while living in community with the disabled.
In the end it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus is found in company with the ‘least’ in places where there is lostness and helplessness. Humility and need are our best gateways to God and the Bible is full of those stories.
Saint Paul was blinded when he met Jesus while traveling on on his way to persecute Christians. Nicodemus secretly met Jesus after dark because of fear of his peers. Soldiers and sick people and prostitutes met Jesus wherever they were.
Jesus was found in the city, in the wilderness, in a manger; with the poor, foreigners, women, fishermen, terrorists, the religious, the sinful and tax collectors. He died at the hands of religious haters and political opportunists. He died with killers and criminals.
Richard Beck is a Christian author and educator who knew he had to do more, so he undertook something totally foreign and awkward for him – to lead a bible study in a prison. It has been interesting to read about him experiencing the challenges and fears and to watch his faith grow in ways he couldn’t have known in his former life. He talks about meeting Jesus in new and more powerful ways in prison.
Here is something to remember: you will always find Jesus on the fringes; at the edges; with those in need.
That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising to us when high-profile churches, notable leaders, powerful nations, large denominations find themselves swamped with greed, abuse and other controversies. They are at the centre of power and comfort but you won’t usually find Jesus there. You’ll find him at the edges of the circle with the poor, the weak, the powerless.
My own experience is that Jesus is discovered most deeply when I am uncomfortable, afraid, or in places I don’t want to be.
Against much of what I learned in church I nevertheless decided I would follow him in blind faith – and he was there. I obediently left a job, moved to Toronto to go back to school to become a pastor – and he was there. I obediently left a position as a pastor to move into the unknown – and he was there. Cheryl and I nursed our spouses through difficult deaths – and he was there.
That’s okay though – we’re in good company because that’s what Jesus’ own apostles discovered in their lives too.
Where is Jesus? Well my answer is kind of an airy, touchy-feely, mystical one: he’s here, he’s there, but mostly he’s wherever there is need.
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.” – Matthew 18:12-14 (NLT)
Maybe you’re that sheep and there’s a gaping need inside of you. Call for him, watch for him.
Maybe you need to follow Jesus on a sheep-finding mission in the wilderness. Follow him to the fringes.
In either case open yourself and wait for him to appear at times and places and in ways you hadn’t expected.