As a practicing Episcopalian, I constantly challenge myself to see the face of Jesus in others. So, rather than “giving up” something this Lenten season – chocolate, or alcohol, or swearing – my Lenten promise is to work on this particular skill. And believe me, it is a skill, and a difficult one to practice, at that.
We easily recognize the face of Jesus in some people. What about the instances in which we are called to see Jesus, and don’t? What about the people we are called to love, and it just seems too darned difficult? Adolph Hitler. Jerry Falwell. The kindergarten teacher that seems to have it in for your kid. Martha Stewart and her perfectly planned party. That woman in front of you at the supermarket that has stood idly by, watching her items being rung up and bagged, and who waits until her cart is full of bags to pull out her checkbook and rummage around in her purse for a pen. The person in the left hand lane on the expressway driving 50 miles per hour. Those Maalox Moments of Parenthood when you say, “Lord, please love my child through me because I just can’t do it right now.”
This past holiday season, I felt that I was most unfortunate to carry out the weekly grocery run to Wal-Mart in the only congested area of town on New Year’s Day. Thinking that most folks would be home recuperating from too much fun and frolicking, I was horrified to see the parking lot loaded to the gills. I pulled into the parking space that I believe is the farthest from the door in which I have ever parked at that particular venue. I turned off the ignition and laid my forehead on the steering wheel, taking a few deep, cleansing breaths. After having navigated the traffic, I figured that I might as well stay – we, after all, did need groceries. Once I entered the store, the noise level was more deafening than usual. I was amazed to note the number of parents with three or four kids in tow. I took more cleansing breaths while elderly people parked their carts in the middle of the already too-narrow aisles, adjusting their bifocals so that they could read every ingredient in every can of soup, while carts backed up in either direction three and four deep. Then it hit me.
The first of the month. Social Security checks. WIC checks. Welfare checks.
I thought, I am looking into the faces of Jesus.
While I stood at the egg cooler, an older man wearing overalls and a fedora began griping to me about the price of eggs. He asked me which eggs were the best. Of course, I had to espouse the virtues of the cage-free no-hormone eggs, and made sure to tell him that they were not any more expensive than the others. As I navigated through the dairy section and turned my cart into the soft drink aisle, the same man ended up next to me, asking my advice on wine. We again spoke for a few minutes, and chuckled a bit – he was explaining to me that liquor was more for men, but that wine was more suited to women. He was much too charming for me to take offense at his ostensibly sexist comment, and I went on my way, a bit more relaxed once I had determined that the people blocking the aisles would surely have a place in heaven – in front of me. As I finished my interminable wait in the checkout line and was loading the groceries into the trunk of my car, my elderly man with the fedora walked past on his way to his car. I noticed that he had very few bags – and it occurred to me that perhaps going to Wal-Mart on New Year’s Day was, for him, preferable to spending it home alone. He stopped to say good-bye, and I wished him Happy New Year – and without thinking about it, I just gave him a hug. It wasn’t until later that I realized that it was a strange thing to do – to hug a stranger in the Wal-Mart parking lot on New Year’s Day – but it must have been all right, because he smiled and said, “Happy New Year to you, too, honey”. I’m not sure who was Jesus – the elderly man or me – but I can say that I got just as much, if not more, from sharing that hug as he did.
It’s funny when you think about that phenomenon with the butterflies – how when a butterfly flaps its wings, the energy flows thousands of miles away – that it’s kind of like that with Jesus. I look back over my life and see Jesus all around me. It’s amazing what you can see if only you believe.
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