I never write fiction! But I made an attempt for this week’s Kairos post, and am at the very least proud of being unselfconscious about it. The following is a [fictional] transposition of a few stories about Jesus on to my daily routine teaching at school: what would it be like if he showed up one day? I’ve never been very good at reading Bible stories imaginatively and contemplatively [after the pattern of lectio divina], so wondered if composing a story would help. It’s written in a second-person narrative, partly to be strange, partly to engage a more active reading perspective. I hope you glimpse Jesus through it in some small way (and maybe transpose him onto your daily routine too).
You’re still scrambling at 11:01 AM to finish reading the Iliad, Book V, when Nadezhda walks over to your table in the dining hall with an unknown friend. You smile and say hello and she introduces him. “Sara, Jesús. We’re friends from college. Jesús, Sara teaches English here. Jesús is visiting for the long weekend.” Pleasantries exchanged; he seems intense, a deep quiet emanating from within. “OK to join you for lunch?”
“Definitely,” you say, and they leave to check out the burrito bar. You skim the last few pages and make a few notes on your computer. They’re always tired by 2pm so start off by making them laugh? You stow your things in your bag.
When you pass the burrito bar, five or six kids are clustered around the two of them. Jesús is laughing and shaking his head. About what? you wonder. You opt for a roast beef sandwich and an orange instead. When you return to your table, a few other teachers have joined your table: Jack, the guy you’ve been hanging out with a fair bit, and Zane and Yani.
“So you’re based in Worcester?” Zane queries, mouth full of meatball sandwich. Inwardly you cringe, glancing to see if Jack does too. Jesús nods in assent. “What do you do?”
“Have you ever been to Rinnie’s Restaurant?” Nadezhda interjects. “Jesús just got made the head chef there. They’re a community eatery, really into local farm to table sort of stuff—pretty unique in Worcester.”
“Cool. Haven’t heard of it, though.”
You’re intrigued. A chef! You’ve never met someone who cooks for a living. “What’s your specialty? Do you have a favorite thing to make?”
Jesús considers. “Probably burgers. Lamb’s my favorite, especially cooked rare. People seem to love my soups, though–squash, carrot, beet, thick hearty wintry soup sort of stuff.”
You and Yani raise your eyebrows appreciatively. At this point a few students have congregated by your table, even though usually students sit with their friends and leave faculty alone. Do they know him? How very odd.
“Hi, we heard” [insert giggles] “that you were nice. So we wanted to say hi.”
Jesús laughs, and it is a “nice” laugh. “Hi. I’m Jesús. Do I know you?”
“Noo…ooo,” two chime in unison. One introduces them. “I’m Robbie, this is Chris, she’s Yvonne.” Zane is still shovelling meatball sandwich into his gullet, but the rest of you watch interestedly.
Chris jumps in. “We were wondering if it’s true that you fed ten thousand people at the Patriots’ Stadium [Gillette] last year. They say you only had ten sandwiches but you can do magic?” His voice is skeptical with a tinge of awe. They all look at him expectantly. You’re all a bit surprised—you’d heard about it in the news last year, but didn’t make much of it. Suddenly you’re fiercely curious.
“Well, not magic, but yes,” Jesús replies. The students’ eyes light up, and you’re not sure if he’s kidding or not. “I would say NMH’s burritos would have been a more delicious option, though. Maybe next time.” He is probably kidding. Right?
“Cool!” Yvonne and Robbie say. Chris still looks like he’s half in disbelief.
Jesús waves them off.“See you at Breakaway tonight?” Breakaway is the Christian fellowship group for students that meets Fridays at a school administrator’s home–an event often overflowing but weirdly stigmatized by students and faculty alike. He’s probably the Breakaway speaker that evening. If you weren’t a teacher, maybe you’d drag along some friends and go. It’d be interesting, at the least. But you probably won’t.
“Only if there are a thousand burritos,” Chris offers.
Jesús looks amused. “I promise I’ll have something better than burritos. Please come.”
The two boys play it cool, but Yvonne intends to go. When they leave, the rest of the table perches adrift an awkward silence. You wouldn’t mind putting him on “Hot Seat” for a moment, but don’t want to ask in front of Jack or Yani—or Zane, for that matter.
Jack wades in. “So, the Gillette story, that was all true?”
Jesús makes a face. “Ye-es, it is. But it’s not exactly the point.” Jack raises an eyebrow. He is so judging him as a weirdo right now. “I’m trying to get people to know Dad [the Christian God] better, is all. Making up a few thousand sandwiches, fixing up sick people in hospitals, that sort of thing–it’s part of it sometimes, Dad’s compassion, but it’s not the whole thing.”
There’s a pause. No one is quite sure what to say, so Yani nods vaguely. You decide–cutting your losses—to make a hasty exit. If you could get him alone you’d talk, but not here. It’s almost 11:30, anyway.
“Hey, Jesús—nice to meet you,” you muster, sincerely, but hoping uncertainly that no one will think you really believe his story, because that’s weird and whatever. “Hope you have a good visit.”
Off you go.
1:47 PM: three minutes to go til class, and suddenly there’s an influx of chattering kids. “Hi, hello Jonathan, hi Lia, hello, please grab a seat.” You’ve hardly ever seen them this boisterous for the last class of the day. “Ines, what’s going on for you this weekend?”
“Well, I was going to see the hypnotist [who the school’s bringing in] but I think I’ll go to Breakaway instead.” The room goes a bit quiet. You’re intrigued: Ines is not the typical Breakaway kid.
“To see Jesús? Is he the Breakaway speaker?”
Ines nods eagerly. Brandon jumps in. “Nadezhda said she’d bring him to wrestling [practice, later today] too!”
There’s a clamor. “He should come to basketball too.”
Ignoring them, Brandon continues. “Maybe he’ll do something super-cool then. Gareth broke his arm last week and he’s still in a cast. I heard that Jesús can fix broken arms, no problem. Once he made a blind kid see! Anyway, that’s what my friend at Worcester Academy said.”
“Are you stupid?” Marjane butts in. “Because—”
You feel compelled to respond. “Marjane. That’s not acceptable.”
“Sorry,” she mumbles. “But”—her words come out in a tumble—“Jesús was just over at Lydia and Oliver’s place, cuz Simone, their baby, had a 104 degree fever. And he fixed it!” Marjane was triumphant. “I know because we were in the dorm lounge and afterward Lydia came out and was crying cuz she’d been so worried about her, but Jesús made it all okay. They were almost going to take her to the hospital even though Oliver hates hospitals, but I guess they didn’t have to.” She claps her hands gleefully. “Isn’t that–amazing!”
For a moment your class goes quiet, then alight. “BS,” you hear one student murmur. “That sh*t’s not real.” Yet he too seems intensely curious. Other students say they want to visit Lydia and Oliver and Simone after class.
“When did this happen?” you ask. “How do they know Simone’s better?” You hadn’t known she was sick, but Lydia and Oliver usually keep to themselves anyway. Your students quieten again, taking their cues from you.
“After lunch,” Marjane says matter-of-factly. “Lydia said the baby stopped crying and wasn’t burning up anymore and fell asleep right away. We tiptoed in to see her and she was fast asleep. Like an angel,” she added.
No one says anything, and you’re not sure what to say either. “Wow, that’s wonderful,” you finally hedge. “Although I’m not quite sure what to make of it.” Half-joking, you address the rest of your class. “Maybe we should all go to wrestling practice and Breakaway and see what this Jesús guy’s got. At lunch he promised Chris Walker it’d be ‘better than a thousand burritos.’” They laugh. “Now we must get started. Please take out a piece of paper and a pen for our Greek gods and goddesses quiz…”
The energy in the classroom dissipates, and you realize it won’t be back. Great. Still, you can hardly blame them. Your mind’s a-wandering too.
You manage to drag Yani and Michael along with you to Breakaway–Jack absolutely is not interested–and nothing spectacular happens. No sign or portent from on high, no rumble of divine thunder. Before the event begins he tells a few colds away, kids later tell you, but you’re feeling a bit shy and don’t ask about yours.
In all, Jesús only talks for fifteen or so minutes: a crazy, parable-ish story about a dad with two boys, one of whom steals half his dad’s money and disappears to LA. Recently he’s come back home, after two years of estrangement: half-contrite, half unrepentant—and his dad’s thrilled, deeply glad, telling all the family and neighbors and everything, offering to set the kid up for college at UMass. There was something about the other brother too, but you don’t quite remember.
The story, honestly, does not make much sense to you. Is this a real story? Is the kid really going to fix himself up? You’re not sure if you buy it; it’s—strange, fantastical, almost, surely not a model to follow. But you hear a persistent buzz in your heart’s-ear, and it’s moving: you are loved beyond what you can imagine, wholly and deeply loved, and loved always, loved apart from your accomplishments and outward facade, even if you were nothing: come be loved and known—come. You look over and realize that for some reason Michael and Yani are crying, and you’re not, but you sort of get why they are.
Come. He’s approaching you three, and in your eagerness to speak you move toward him and instead pitch forward, tripping. You’re about to pick yourself up when you realize you don’t want to, and remain half cross-legged on the ground, right before him, content. Gazing up with a heart-full of questions, wondering, you think: this is enough.