In a now infamous U.S. presidential debate in 2011, Republican candidate Ron Paul shrugged off society’s responsibility to care for a hypothetical young man, comatose and declining, who had neglected to pay for health insurance. “That’s what freedom is all about,” Paul said, “taking your own risks.”
“Should society just let him die?” asked the moderator.
Paul shrugged in response, then members of the audience whooped and cheered. “Yes!” they shouted.
I felt chilled by the audience’s reaction. Have we become so callous and indifferent to human suffering that we would allow people to die simply because they lack health insurance?
What if that hypothetical young man was Christ? What if the person we neglected or turned away or allowed to die was Christ come again?
True, the Bible says that Christ will come in power and great glory, but in some sense, he is already here. We find him among refugees and prisoners, the mentally ill and marginally important, the homeless and hungry, the sick and dying. Christ is here in our friend fighting depression, in our neighbour struggling with a broken marriage, in a co-worker losing his job, in a parent grieving the loss of a child and in a young adult battling the demon of drug addiction.
Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). Could it be that at the Second Coming we will find Christ among these people? To have such faith entirely changes how we look at others-for the one we least expect may be the Christ in our midst.
William Kurelek was an outstanding Canadian artist. He died in 1977, at age 50, from cancer. His was not an easy life-he survived a painful childhood, years in psychiatric institutions and struggles with suicide.
But there was another side of Kurelek, a deeply religious side. After his conversion to Roman Catholicism, his one great passion was to communicate how the Word made flesh enfleshes himself among us. Kurelek’s paintings show Christ among the peoples of the Canadian mosaic-the fishermen of the Maritimes, the Eastern Europeans of the prairies and the urban dwellers of Toronto and Vancouver.
One of his most mystical paintings is Arctic Madonna and Child. In that painting, an Inuit mother holds her little babe on a cold, dark night, amidst the stark beauty of glacial terrain-and the Son of God comes again.
That’s the way it will probably be at Christ’s Second Coming. He will be whom we least expect, and come when we least expect it.
In the children’s movie Whistle Down the Wind, Haley Mills and her friends stumble across a sleeping vagrant while playing in a country barn. The frightened children shout, “Who are you?”
Startled, the vagrant replies, “Jesus Christ!”
What the man meant as an expletive, the children regard as fact. They think the man is Jesus Christ. They treat him with awe, respect and love. They bring him food and blankets, talk with him and listen to his story. Their tenderness transforms this ex-convict’s life and he opens his eyes to the Lord. The children saw Jesus in the one they least expected.
Another story from the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series deals with this same theme. In this particular story, offered by Julie Manhan, a little boy wants to meet God. He expects it will be a long trip to where God lives, so he packs a suitcase full of Twinkies and cans of root beer (his two favourite foods) and sets off on his journey.
He has walked only a few blocks when he notices an older woman sitting on a park bench. She is staring at some pigeons, and seems sad and lonely. The boy sits next to her, opens his suitcase and offers her a package of Twinkies.
Grateful, she accepts and smiles at him. Her smile is so warm and wonderful that the boy wants to see it again. He offers her a can of root beer. Once again, she accepts his offering and smiles at him. The boy is delighted. They sit there all afternoon, eating Twinkies, drinking root beer and watching the pigeons, without saying a word to each other.
When it begins to grow dark, the boy realizes he needs to head home. He gets up to leave, but before he has walked even a few steps, he turns around, then runs back to the woman to give her a big hug. She gives him the biggest smile of all.
At home, the boy’s mother notices how happy he seems and she asks him what he has done all day. “I had lunch with God,” he says. “And you know what? She has the most beautiful smile that I have ever seen.”
Meanwhile, the older woman has returned to her home. Her son, noticing how happy and content she seems, asks her what she did that day. She replies, “I sat in the park and ate Twinkies with God. You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”
Yes, we meet Christ in the most unexpected ways, in the most unexpected persons. We meet Christ in the least, the last and the lost. We meet Christ in the ones who seem so insignificant and unimportant, the ones who are all too easy to ignore or forget or discard.
Yes, Christ will come again in power and great glory, but he is already here, if we open our eyes to see him.
An elderly lady who died in a nursing home in Scotland left this note behind:
What do you see, nurses? What do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?
A crabbed old woman, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?
Let me tell you who I am.
I am a child of ten with sisters and brothers.
I’m a bride of twenty, loving my lover.
I’m a mother of children who grew up too fast.
I’m a grieving widow, living in the past.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see.
Not a crabbed old woman. Look closer at me.
Open our eyes, Lord, and help us to see Jesus!
The Christ who is to come is already here. If we can’t welcome this Christ who is present in the struggles of human living, then we will never be able to welcome the Christ who will come in glory.
If we don’t see Christ in the “down and outs” in Canadian society or in the people without medical insurance in the United States, then we won’t see him at all.
If we watch for him in the skies or even at church while turning our backs on the human beings he came to save, then we are going to miss him.
There’s an interesting passage in Ivan Turgenev’s Dream Tales and Prose Poems about a vision he had of Christ. When he was in church one day, someone came up and stood behind him, and he became convinced that that someone was Christ. At length he summoned up the courage to look at him and saw “a face like all men’s faces.”
Turgenev writes, “I thought, ‘What sort of Christ is this? Such an ordinary man! It can’t be!’ I turned away, but I had hardly turned my eyes away from this ordinary man when I felt again that it really was none other than Christ standing beside me. Again I made an effort over myself…and again the same face, like all men’s faces. And suddenly my heart sank, and I came to myself. Only then I realized that just such a face-a face like all men’s faces-is the face of Christ.”
Can we see that face? Do we watch for it? Welcome it? Even embrace it?
The Christ who is among us will come again. We shall meet him face to face. And we will discover to our surprise that his face is the face-like all faces.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.