I was herded through security like an animal, and eventually entered the harsh, grey jail.
I picked up a list of detainees and made my way to them, visiting people who were locked up and seeking something. This particular night was fairly normal (or, as normal as talking about God in a jail could be), when a guard I had become familiar with asked me to come with him to the first floor. I had never been to the first floor before; it was generally off-limits for chaplains, a place they reserved for people suffering from mental illness and addictions.
I was led into a small, cinder block interview room and told to wait. Before long, a man was escorted in by two officers, tears streaming down his face, an incessant sound of rumbling behind his closed lips, a green kevlar body suit wrapped around him with his hands secured behind his back. He was naked underneath.
The officers left us alone, and this man in kevlar began asking questions immediately.
“Can you help me get this jumpsuit off so I can kill myself?”
I was in way over my head. “No, I can’t.”
“Can you defend me in the criminal trial I’m in tomorrow? I did a bad thing. Was on the news.”
“No.” I’m not a lawyer.
“Can you snag me a honey bun from the vending machine?”
“No.” I couldn’t enter their pod to get to the vending machines.
Wet eyes shining with hurt, he asked me, “What can you do?”
“I can sit with you for a while. And we can pray, if you want.”
I know a man with a terrible infection on his leg. The infection has razed his skin. It generates puss that sticks to and stains his pants. And because this man spends the majority of his time outside, his leg is never dry or clean. The moisture remains in his wet clothing days after the frequent April showers in Chicago.
I sat with him in the rain once, and we prayed that it would stop. But, the downpour continued.
I know a woman who recently died of cancer. She was sick for a long time, and after countless treatments, sleepless nights, and a great deal of pain for her and everyone surrounding her, there was nothing more to do.
I held her hand in the hospital a week or so before she passed away. I prayed that God might cure this woman’s illness and send her home to her family. But, the disease took her anyway, and she bravely fell into the unknown eternity.
I know a man who had the power to control nature, to heal illness, and to expel demons.
I don’t have that power.
Jesus and I have a few things in common. I’m a human, and so was Jesus. I’m in my 33rd year, which is roughly the same number of years Jesus spent on Earth. Jesus did a lot of talking and a lot of touching, which I do. He loved and wept with his friends and family, and so do I. He ate bread, and I love a good sandwich. Apparently, he drank wine. Check.
But I’m a Christian, English-speaking white guy who lives on a continent that Jesus didn’t know existed. He was a Jewish, Aramaic-speaking brown guy who lived with his mother in a backwater town until he was 30.
Jesus is also God, whom I am decidedly not. Jesus will be remembered for a very, very, very, long time. I’ll be forgotten much sooner. Jesus calmed storms, healed minds and hearts, and threw evil spirits out into the dirt. I walk out into the pouring rain and get soaked. I can fix a bike tire with a few tools and an air pump, but I can’t fix blindness or deafness with a touch or a word. I can sit with someone for hours and listen to their deepest darkness, but I can’t guarantee that light will come or that the rain will stop.
People sometimes implore to be more Christ-like. But, I’m just not.
I just can’t do all the things Jesus could do; in that sense, I’m not like Jesus. But I don’t think he’s asking me to be him. He’s asking me to be with those in need, to love them, to serve them, and in that, to serve Him who is in all of us:
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least of mine, you did for me.” That is, Jesus is in those who fit the description – the hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, sick, and imprisoned.
And so, I sit with an inmate in jail, pray with a poor man in the rain, and hold a dying woman’s hand, because the light and life and love of Jesus is in them, and they remain in Him. I don’t have His powers, but I have this power. And I must use it.
This post is part of a series in preparation for Magis 2016, a gathering of young adults before World Youth Day in Poland. Pope Francis has offered participants a series of twelve questions for their preparation. To see how others are responding to the question, “How much does your life have in common with the life of Jesus?” check out the Magis website.
The cover photo, by Flickr user 2thin2swim, can be found here.