Whenever we can, Phil and I walk our daughter to school. It’s a half-mile walk down streets of ranch-style and split-level houses and apartments. Most of the homes belong to strangers, but over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to meet some of these neighbors.
One morning, a woman in a housecoat and slippers popped open her screen door and yelled, “Excuse me! What day is it?” Unsure if I’d heard her right, I ventured, “Friday?” She nodded and retreated behind the screen door.
Just last week, my daughter and I met an elderly woman scooting her metal walker down the street, tennis balls dragging dead leaves with each step. We said hello, then she whispered the reason for her walk: people trying to kill her. She squinted warily at each passing car. I offered to call the police, but she explained that the police were in on it. Trust no one.
(I called the police. The officer who came was already acquainted with her.)
Most recently a woman stopped me and asked whether I go to church. When I answered yes, she told me a tale of woe, from health problems to being exploited by her landlords, Tina and Steve. She then asked me to pray for her by name—and to pray against her landlords.
(I agreed to pray for her but made no promises regarding Tina or Steve.)
I don’t know why strangers have been approaching me lately, but I feel helpless in the face of confusion and woe. And while I’m willing to give someone the day of the week when asked, I tend to be wary and stingy with my time. Still, Jesus’ words ring in my ears: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”
So, I was thinking: what if Jesus had avoided strangers? There’d be fewer stories of healing, no account of the woman touching the hem of his garment, no record of noisy Bartimaeus regaining sight, no pesky children to bless. Yet Jesus had no qualms about strangers—maybe because he was one.
Some people are powerless and desperate; some of us hold our precious illusions of control in a death-grip. Some people live life; some people have life done to them. Jesus not only aligned himself with the powerless—“he made himself nothing.”
Father Henri Nouwen writes, “The mystery of Jesus’ life is that he fulfilled his mission not in action but in passion, not through what he did, but through what was done to him” (from Love, Henri).
Jesus had lived his earthly life in deference to God; most things were out of his hands—willingly. In his seventh Last Word, Jesus musters his last bit of energy to pray one final prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
I imagine Jesus’ body collapsing into deathly stillness, his spirit tumbling into the waiting hands of God.
I envision Jesus—dazed and exhausted and relieved—asking: “Father, what day is it?”
“Friday. Not long until Sunday.” And with that, God shuts the screen door.