Lewis Smedes in his best-selling books, A Pretty Good Person, tells this story:
A few years ago, I spent a hot August day at the Los Angeles county jail, waiting for the wheels of the justice to open the jail doors for someone I was bailing out. It takes a long time to spring somebody from this mammoth prison, so I had to wait and watch.
I watched the pimps in white suits bailing out their prostitutes; lawyers in black suits bailing out their clients; drug dealers bailing out their peddlers; girls bailing out their boyfriends; and drunks who disturbed the peace the night before slinking out on their own.
As I took in the sleazy parade, I began to see everyone in it as a full-time, obsessive-compulsive, addictive, hopeless loser. By noon, I lost any desire to know any more about them than that.
At mid-afternoon, I decided to go out for a cold drink. As I walked out the door, I met a lanky black man wearing a black suit with a priest’s collar – a prison chaplain, I figured, on his way out at the end of a day’s work of grace. I introduced myself on our way to the parking lot.
He gave me the feeling that he had time to talk a while, so I asked him to join me for a drink.
“Glad to,” he said.
It turned out he was not a priest; he was an insurance sales agent. He devoted one day out of every week to bring a moment of grace to those locked up in the county jail. He wore the cloth so that everyone would know what he was up to.
I asked him the sort of question any decent Pharisee would ask, “Don’t you keep meeting the same people, coming in and going out, these repeaters and losers?”
“Well,” he replied, “Every person locked up in that jail has got somebody with a key to let them out. But I meet people in my business every day who are locked up in a cell inside their hearts and nobody on earth has a key to let them out. So I do not see an enormous difference between them.”
“Okay, true enough, but still, are not most of the people you meet inside this jail hard-core losers?”
“Well, maybe they are, but that is not the way I divide people up. The only two categories of people I really care about are the forgiven people and the unforgiven people.”
He had me!
“I met Jesus today,” I told Doris when I came home.
“Oh yeah? What did he say to you?”
“He told me I was a Pharisee. Have eyes. Don’t see.”
What keeps you from seeing the unexpected Jesus? Just as the risen Jesus refused to stay in the tomb, so the Christ of faith refuses to live only in our church sanctuaries on Sunday mornings. God raised Jesus from death into life – and that life is everywhere and all the time.
Christians live with the belief that they are always on “Candid Camera”. When we least expect Christ to be present in our lives – there he is! Without fanfare, without a choir, without robes or regalia, Christ appears. Without warning, without shoes, without a home, Christ appears. Without power, without friends, without a chance, Christ appears. Without a name, without parents, without health, Christ appears. Without fear, without self-concern, without deceitfulness, Christ appears.
Is your faith great enough to recognize Christ when he appears before you? The ever transforming and transformative Christ calls on our faith to recognize his presence in our lives, whatever the surprising, unexpected shape he may take.
Jesus told us, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers or sisters, you did to me.”