“Inasmuch . . .”: A True Story
by Richard W. Coffen | 22 May 2019 |
Sabbath, April 6—Hands on my wristwatch pointed to 9:25. Sabbath school class discussion would soon commence. George, with his Santa Claus white beard, sat in his usual corner. Snowbird Sylvia, a devout Catholic, had donned her best go-to-church dress. Beth, another snowbird, looked spiffy in her casual clothing. And stick-in-the-mud me had on my dark blue suit, white shirt, and necktie, which was kept from flopping about by means of a tie clip sporting a small Australian opal cabochon.
Suddenly a stranger ambled into our small room, plunking himself down on one of the remnant vacant chairs. “I hope I’m in the right place,” he said to no one in particular and, therefore, received no reply. To say that he looked out of place would be an understatement. His blackened (yes, filthy black) toes and toenails jutted through his open-toe sandals (“disciple boots”). His shirt and trousers hadn’t experienced a washing machine for, uh, who knows how long? In contrast with George’s bushy snow-white beard, our guest’s whiskers were scraggly and needing a shower. Most of his teeth were MIA. A dusty rose-colored, loosely crocheted something-or-other roofed his tangled salt-and-pepper mop, which begged for a shampooing.
Our teacher asked his name. He replied in a rich voice, “Jesús.” (A common moniker in our area.)
Our class has spent more than two quarters studying the Gospel of John rather than the authorized study guide handed down from above (a.k.a. the General Conference). The topic for this Sabbath focused on Jesus’ viticulture metaphor. Periodically, guest Jesús would speak up. Sometimes he’d pun (“Note the vine in divine.”) or cite scriptural passages (including chapter and verse). Whew, what a memory! Put me to shame! However, at times Jesús’ comments veered off into some sort of intellectual no-man’s land.
As I spoke later with him, it became clear that he wasn’t a Seventh-day Adventist, although he cited Ellen White! He’d recently learned about an offshoot Islamic group near our church. This sect adhered to just one holy book—the Qur’an. Jesús was now in the process of reading the Qur’an in order to ascertain if it contradicted anything in the Gospels. So far, so good.
As you know, there are well-meaning people with neuroses or psychoses who envision multiple evil conspiracies afoot. For instance, you may have met someone who claimed that jet contrails are in fact “chemtrails” strewn aloft by the government to control the behavior of those of us down here on terra firma. Jesús was convinced of various conspiracies that are propagated by the government, Jesuits, and sundry other co-conspirators (such as the Illuminati). One, therefore, mustn’t apply for a Social Security number, a driver’s license, or any government issued I.D. The Internal Revenue Service is in cahoots with Jesuits and forks out $500 each month to every member of the Society of Jesus.
Jesús referenced such conspiracy theorists as Jack Chick and others. Almost anywhere one turns nowadays, the number 666 shows up in one form or another, according to Jesús. (Interestingly, he failed to reference the Trump Tower situated at 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York.) Everyone using American currency has been sucked into the conspiracy vortex that will soon activate an apocalyptic end to Planet Earth.
Jesús explained that he was a musician and had applied to play the piano at a nearby church of another denomination. When he showed up for the interview with Pastor Sylvan, he was told that someone else had already accepted the position. Jesús felt that Pastor Sylvan had treated him with disdain and owed him an apology. One might, of course, speculate that Pastor Sylvan had gotten an eyeful upon meeting Jesús in person. Consequently, there was no way that he’d allow this disheveled Jesús up front to play the piano for services in that church!
It just so happened that this Sabbath was Communion Service Sabbath, which, of course, in Adventist congregations, includes the foot-washing ceremony. Jesús desired to participate, although he didn’t believe that his first-century namesake, Jesus Christ, had intended to establish a sacrament. Rather, Jesus of Nazareth took on such a condescending job of a slave in order to teach his disciples that they should humbly engage in any demeaning task that helped others.
With his filthy, smelly feet and unkempt mien, Jesús stepped into the room where the men were engaged in the “ordinance of humility.” Everyone in that little room acted as though Jesús were invisible. No one greeted him when he walked into the room. No one proffered him a towel and a basin with water. No one volunteered, “May I wash your feet?” After all, who’d want to get his hands contaminated while slopping a little water onto Jesús’ filthy feet? (Uh, what do you suppose happened to Jesus of Nazareth’s hands when he washed his disciples’ feet after they’d trod those sandy, dusty, manure-spattered streets of ancient Palestine?) No humility observable here at my church! Jesús merely sat in that crowded room in mortifying isolation while mature men ignored him!
“Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45).
Richard W. Coffen is a retired vice president of editorial services at Review and Herald Publishing Association, and writes from Green Valley, Arizona.