I saw Jesus at a beer festival. We went with our neighbors, “Sean” and “Martina,” to a country pub just outside of Cambridge. Martina suffered a stroke last winter which left her paralyzed on one side and unable to speak. She has recovered enough to walk a few steps and say a few words. But in addition to the hard work of physical therapy and speech therapy, she needs to do normal things and have fun—so we went to the beer festival. With 50 ales and ciders on tap, an African jazz band playing, and a marquee to keep the rain off, the stage was set for a good time. Little did I know who the main character would be.
Sean and Martina aren’t like us. They chain smoke. They met on the internet. She’s on her second or third marriage. They don’t know many people and keep themselves to themselves. They don’t work. Their whole world is in online games. But Sean looks after Martina like she is the Queen of Sheba. He lifted her into our car. He wheeled her out for cigarette and toilet breaks. He called her “sweetie.” He brought her food and drink and wiped her mouth. He teased her by finding a snail and pretending to drop it in her lap. He rubbed the back of her neck absent-mindedly while we were listening to the music.
Why should this man—who is, as he admitted “completely selfish”—do so much for someone who can’t pay him back? I could only think, it’s the grace of God. I felt humbled to see that we Christians don’t have a monopoly on love, or on reflecting God’s image. God has scattered himself liberally, and we can find him in the most unlikely places. In Sean’s care for Martina, I saw a picture of Christ’s love for his bride, the church. We get so full of ourselves sometimes, in our churches and denominations—but we are so helpless and weak; it’s Jesus who is tending us and filling in all our deficiencies.
But that wasn’t the end of the evening. As we sat at a side table, nodding our heads to the cool rhythms sliding from the stage, I saw a thin, lanky man with short grey hair and lots of tattoos on his arms come and sit down at a table near us. He began rolling a cigarette. All of sudden, Martina saw him and her face lit up. She tugged at Sean’s sleeve, pointing and babbling.
The man looked up and came bounding over to Martina and Sean. He embraced Sean in a huge bear hug, and crouched down by the wheelchair, talking to Martina. Sean was shouting in his ear to be heard over the music. Martina and Sean looked like different people, animated and happy. It turns out that this man had been Martina’s nurse while she was in the hospital following her stroke. He had looked after both her and Sean in that immediate aftermath, and he was over the moon to see her looking so well now. Wow, I thought, I bet that’s what Jesus was like to be around—so caring, so exuberant, so full of warmth and joy. No wonder people wanted to be around him. I want to be that kind of person.
I looked around at the crazy mix of people at this beer festival—and I seemed to see Jesus everywhere. The red-bearded, dreadlocked guy smiling broadly at the musicians’ skill; the middle-aged ladies in tight jeans gyrating their hips to the music; the young “lads” in their flat gangsta caps and big T-shirts; the old professor with a white beard; the rough “river people” (who live on the house-boats); the hipster girls in horn-rimmed glasses; the scruffy guy with his wolf/German shepherd who had made friends with us when Martina gave him part of her burger… Jesus loves these people. And Jesus would have loved this beer festival (maybe he would have added a few special brews to the 50 beers on tap!).
…Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
– Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire
The gyrating middle-aged ladies finally gave other people the courage to get up and dance. Martina’s nurse started grooving with his lady friend. Martina stood up from her chair and, clutching Sean’s hands, starting doing a little hobble-hop step that was all her own. My husband and I looked at each other and smiled. What could we do? We had to join in the dance.