What does Jesus look like? Does He look like a guy on stage looking over the crowd loving all the adoration, wanting even more? Does He look like a robed man with golden brown hair and blue eyes walking a field with sheep? Does Jesus look like the guy on one of your shoulders waving his index finger at you saying “no, no, no” while another voice sits on the other shoulder saying “yes, yes yes”? Does He look so holy that He must wear a face mask and lots of antibacterial soap to assure He won’t get sick from all those He touches?
What does Jesus look like?
Does He look like the big Man upstairs who comes out of His kingly mansion to give you the final results of your Heavenly intake forms? Does He look like the odd guy having his last supper at a table where everyone sits on one side awkwardly staring at the camera? Does He look like a thief on a cross, still bloody and marred from His punishment? Does He look like a fisherman, ordinary and unassuming? Or does He look like a television evangelist with a big combover and a bigger ego?
What does Jesus look like?
I think Jesus looks like my friend Jeff. Or shall I say, Jeff looks like my friend Jesus.
Every single morning that I go to work, I walk by Jeff’s church. This of course is after I do my deal… I wake up and make coffee and when I’ve had enough coffee, I talk to God. I don’t think He wants to be around me ’til I have my coffee. I don’t even wanna be around me ‘til then. After coffee, I make breakfasts and lunches and prep for dinner. I shower and put on deodorant and on good days, I do my hair. I feed the dogs and sign the field trip papers and back out of the driveway with the goal of getting my kids to school on time with smiles on their faces (which is a feat with teenagers, I promise).
And then I drive to work and I park.
I park in the parking lot of the church that Jeff pastors. This downtown church generously gave me a spot to use, which I am uber thankful for because paying for parking downtown is like paying for a second mortgage. Every morning I see the vibrant painting of the last supper on the wall that lines their parking lot. It reminds me that I have been invited to the greatest of all tables. I see the church’s back door and the alley as I approach the sidewalk that walks me by the front entrance that often houses a diverse crowd of people who made the place a bedroom for the night. Their backpacks, cans, cigarette butts, food containers, blankets, and tarps all line the front of the church.
This church opens their doors and feeds people that most people avoid. Every Tuesday night, every nook and cranny of the place is covered with people, dogs, bikes, and grocery carts that house all that they own. Every single person is loved with a meal, so they seem to keep coming back week after week. All the craziness that comes with opening your home and letting anyone and their brother in stands outside this church on Tuesdays when I am leaving work. I walk by at the close of my day and what I see is evidence of something Divine happening.
But at the start of my day, I often see Pastor Jeff. I see him bending over someone sleeping in the doorway of his church, gently talking to them. I see him chatting with grown men in sleeping bags and women talking to themselves. I see Jeff picking up all their garbage and the belongings they leave in their path, which just so happens to be the front door of the church he pastors. I see Jeff coming alongside their needles and their drug addicted mental illnesses. And he stands there and he does it everyday like some of us punch the clock.
The other day, my son skipped school and it became come-to-work-with-Mom day. And boy am I glad he did because we got to run into Jesus together. My son, Aidan, and I walked from the parking spot toward the Collide office and wouldn’t you know it? There was Jeff with a pressure washer in his hand, busy at work. We stopped and I said “Whatchya doin?”
He was wearing winter like gear and it was freezing out. I was thinking he was just doing some spring cleaning because the church’s rubber mats were strewn about, he was sopping wet and looked like he was on a mission. Jeff answered “Cleaning up puke.”
It was then that I realized Aidan and I were also standing in what looked like the radius of vomit that had been pressure washed away from the doorway out onto the grass. I slowly started holding my breath as I made conversation with Jeff. I could feel my body tense up, not wanting to get sick or “affected” by the mess I stood in.
I started to realize that Jeff is probably no different than you and I. He shows up to work and has a long list of things to do. And I doubt one of them is:
Clean up a homeless guy’s puke.
Jeff probably has an inbox that is threatening his sanity like ours is. He probably has big goals he’d like to accomplish with daily occurrences that get in the way. He probably has pressures on his back he has to tend to, budgets he has to approve, sermons he has to write, and to-do lists he has to check off. I am sure Jeff has places to go, people to see and things to do.
Perhaps Pastor Jeff could get someone else to do the dirty work. Perhaps he could use his authority to call the cops or get ugly and kick these homeless people out with harsh words of disappointment. Perhaps he could set up a policy that gets him off the hook or pleases others. Perhaps he could build fences with barbed wire to send a message that there is no room for the likes of these at his church. Perhaps Jeff could ignore the dirty, messy, crazy, scariness of it all and buzz right into his building. But instead Jeff shows up every morning to work and engages people that very few people will.
Jeff seems to be reminding people at their lowest moments of all the great services and resources our community has to offer. If they have been kicked out of organizations that provide help, Jeff reminds them reconciliation is possible. Jeff gently asks them what help they need to move forward. And you know what else Jeff does?
He cleans up their puke.
Jeff gets his hands dirty. He enters their mess. He allows their pain to become his.
I stood there in that puke with him and quite seriously and emotionally said “Jeff, I I haven’t seen anything more like Christ in a long time.”
What does Jesus look like?
He looks like Jeff.
Or shall I say…
Jeff looks like Jesus.
Jesus stood in the presence of the woman just caught in the very act of adultery, wearing lingerie and the stench of her whereabouts.
Jesus hung on a cross and suffered undue punishment next to two thieves who stole what was not theirs to take.
Jesus walked into the tombs that no one dared enter and pursued the crazy man who was cutting his own flesh and crying out because his community sent him into isolation.
Jesus went out of His way to meet the get-around-girl at the well that most people avoided because she was a dirty, no good, disrespected, ho of a Samaritan.
What does Christ look like? He looks like the God who enters people’s addiction, people’s pain, people’s mess, and He stands there with them. He doesn’t just give them a list of rules, a prescription to come back when they are better, or a warrant for their arrest. Christ is a God who would say sweetly to a heroin addict who has no place to lie his head “Good morning friend.”
When you think about what Christ looks like, question your picture if it doesn’t look like a God who would invite in strangers, love sinners, get real messy, and hold a power washer standing in a pile of vomit because He welcomed home those who thought they didn’t have one.
Christ is not in the big lights and the fog machines. He is not in the political bumper stickers you don. He is not in places only deemed “Christian”. Christ is with the poor. Christ is in the tombs with the mentally ill. Christ is washing people’s feet. Christ is pulling his sleeves up and getting His hands dirty. And you know what, counter to what many believe, there are still people in the church that look like Christ.
My friend Jeff is one of them.
Maybe when you and I worship Christ, when we sing songs to Him, when we pray, when we reach our hands out begging for Him to come to our aid, and when we pass by hurting people… maybe we need to reimagine our God for who He reveals Himself to be.
If we picture Christ as the One waiting to close the door on people knocking to come home, maybe we need to remember that He is the One in Revelations who actually stands outside all of our doors and knocks, hoping desperately to come into our lives. Maybe if we picture Jesus as the One who is holier than thou, wearing a face mask and antibacterial soap, we actually ought to remember that He’s the One who got out a towel and washed well-traveled feet none of us would ever offer to touch. Maybe if we picture Christ as the One who sits pompously at the head of a dinner demanding His next course, maybe we ought to remember it is He who left the oak of a table to be nailed to the pine, cypress and cedar of a cross.
Maybe when we think of Him, we ought to see Him as the God who would stand in an addict’s vomit, loving, gently prodding, encouraging, speaking truth and caring for even one who has been forgotten. Maybe thinking upon Jesus in this way might cause us to worship more, sing songs like we mean it, pray without ceasing, and reach our hands out with fierce passion toward this beautiful One. And when we do, may it cause us to use those same hands to reach out to others in need, living and looking just like Jesus.
My friend Jesus looks like my friend Jeff. I hope someday I can look like them too.
Who do you know that looks like Jesus? How so?