How I Found Jesus
by John R. Plunkett
It all began with that strange whining sound the van started making as I was driving home from work.
One may wonder how I could pick out one vague, intermittent sound amid the Faustian chorus of mechanical suffering generated by a vehicle old enough to drink as it roars down the highway at sixty miles an hour. The fact is, if one owns such a vehicle and if one works as a telemarketer selling over-priced long distance service and earning not quite enough to get by, one learns to be very sensitive to such things. So attuned was I that I didn't realize I was drifting out of my lane. When the guy in the Volvo noticed my Dodge Tradesman closing in he laid on the horn with a vengeance. It startled me so badly I nearly jumped out of my skin; fortunately when I jerked the wheel I went off onto the shoulder instead of into rush-hour traffic. That's when I first saw him, just a flash in the corner of my eye as he leapt back to avoid being clipped by the van's right front fender. Two near misses in such a short time were too much; I jammed the brake and the van slid to a stop. While I was slumped against the steering wheel gulping air I saw him in the right side mirror, running toward me, waving and grinning.
My foot lifted from the brake and hovered over the gas. I hadn't intended to pick him up. Nor did his appearance didn't reassure me; he was small and swarthy with dark hair and beard, dressed in sandals and what looked like a bath robe. My first thought was that he was one of those people who'd ended up on the street after the state closed down all the mental hospitals. The sensible thing to do would be to drive away and forget the whole thing. In that moment, though, sensible just didn't seem right. I knew how I'd feel if I'd been trying to hitch a ride and someone slowed down as if they were going to stop and then sped away. Not to mention that I'd almost run him down. I was still debating with myself when he came up and opened the van's passenger door.
"Hey, thanks for stopping." He flashed me a friendly smile as he climbed in.
"So, um... where are you headed?" I inquired. His features were very Middle Eastern, with dark eyes and a nose that some would call Jewish. His hair was almost but not quite wavy enough to be considered curly and instead of being black as I'd first thought it was made of varying shades of gold and brown that, at a distance, added up to a very dark auburn. His outfit wasn't a bath robe; it wasn't cut right and the material too thin to be terrycloth. There were dark stains down the right side but they were old ones that had failed to wash out, not the result of current dirt. In fact he seemed quite clean, surrounded by a faint odor that reminded me of fresh blossoms.
"Oh, wherever you are," he replied.
"I'm just headed up to Aloha," I said.
Curiosity got the better of me. "What's your name?" I inquired.
"Jesus," He declared. Not 'Hesus,' as the Hispanics say it but 'Jesus,' just as it is so often invoked in church and on construction sites.
"Any relation to the Jesus?" I inquired, half jokingly. And half serious.
"What do you think?"
"It's my understanding that the Jesus died about two thousand years ago," I commented.
"Actually, it's about nineteen hundred and sixty-eight years ago," he corrected. "The historical Jesus was presumed to have been born in about the year three pre-Christian and died somewhere around the year thirty-two, Christian Era. That's according to the Gregorian calendar, of course."
"Then you can't be the Jesus," I pronounced triumphantly.
"You said yourself he died about nineteen hundred and sixty-eight years ago."
"I said 'presumed,'" he clarified.
"Are you saying you are Jesus?" I demanded shortly.
"Of course. My name is Jesus."
"That's not what I meant!" I snapped.
"Sorry," he apologized. "The point is, I know who I am. But do you know who I am?"
I said nothing. I could feel the hairs at the back of my neck pricking up. I'm a lousy Bible student, but something about that sounded vaguely familiar.
"As far as I'm concerned you're just some kook standing by the side of the road," I declared.
"That's what Peter said, too," he replied with a sigh.
I was starting to get a little angry. "All right. If you are Jesus, prove it. Do a miracle."
Now he looked angry. "And have people believe in me because of stupid magic tricks?" he demanded sharpy. "I'll leave that to the televagelists, thank you very much."
I had to think about that for several minutes. "Are you saying you can't perform a miracle?" I ventured.
"I'm saying that a miracle that just happens isn't a miracle at all," he replied. "It's a, a freak of nature, an act of God. Like the blind man who gets struck by lighting and suddenly he can see again. Is that a miracle?"
"It is," Jesus insisted. "But does it transform anyone's life? Except maybe the guy who got hit, and not necessarily even then."
The debate was interesting but I was starting to tire of it. "Can you explain to me why exactly I should believe that you're Jesus?"
His grin broadened, and there was a devilish glint in his eye. "Because you want to."
"That's ridiculous," I scoffed.
"Are you happy?" he asked. "Does your life bring your joy? Satisfaction? Do you sometimes feel that the thing you've always wanted is right there, just waiting for you to grab it, but when you try it's like there's invisible barriers blocking your way and no matter how hard you try you just can't get around them? Do you ever look at your life and wonder 'Is this all there is? Is this all I'll ever be?'"
I hunched my shoulders and stared hard at the road. Abruptly I hit the brakes and swerved off the road. "I think," I said slowly, still staring ahead, "That you should get out. I did not invite you in so that you could psychoanalyze me."
His face fell. "Okay," he said sadly. "I'm... I'm sorry. I just... I didn't mean to push. But... You have such a kind and generous heart. You're full of love... and you make a difference to the people around you. I know you made a difference to me. Out of the kindness of your heart you stopped to pick up a long-haired freak in a bathrobe who needed a ride. Thank you." He took my hand and squeezed it.
"Please, I'm not like that," I said hollowly. I felt shamed by his praise. I could only think of how I'd taken advantage of the people who given me so much. My father, who let me live in his house and paid for my education, who thought I was an idiot and a failure because whenever I was near him I did everything in my power to fulfill those expectations. My mother who had so little and yet selflessly shared it with me, and I squandered what she gave me like a dog pissing on food it doesn't want. My brother, the only person who believed in me, and I couldn't even talk to him because I felt so ashamed of who I was. Everyone on my family was successful, except for me. I was driving a piece-of-shit car, living in a rat hole apartment, I'd been fired from every single job I'd ever had, I was obese, ugly, and right now I was working as a telemarketer, of all things, just so that I could get by. I was not a loving and generous soul. I was a leech, a parasite, who drained the life from everyone around me and gave nothing back.
Jesus opened the door. "Please remember this," he asked. "You stopped and gave me a ride. That was generous. If more people were like you, this would be a better world. I pray that goodness and grace go with you for the rest of your days." He slid out and closed the door.
Tears stung my eyes and my throat constricted. No one had ever talked to me like that. I could feel love radiating from him. He cared about me. He thought I was a good person. I thought of all the opportunities I'd thrown away, then cursed myself for loosing them. I couldn't tear my eyes away from him as he strolled away down the highway verge. I felt sick to my stomach; even if he wasn't the Jesus he was a kind person who thought I was one, too. If, on the other hand, by some strange twist of fate he was who he said he was-
My hand was shaking as I gripped the shifter. Did I really want him in my life? My past experiences of religion had been unpleasant; it seemed to me that churches took your money and your time, promising to pay back after you were dead. Even then if you didn't get your eternal reward it was your fault for being such a hopeless sinner. It sounded like a big scam to me. Besides, what would he expect of me? Everyone in my life seemed to think I should be something other than what I was, and was disappointed that I wasn't. The disappointment of my family was already more than I could handle. What would the disappointment of the Son of God be like?
On the other hand, he hadn't commented on the shabby condition of my car, clothes, or person. He'd thanked me for doing him a kindness.
Jesus stopped a ways up the road and stuck out his thumb. Traffic continued to roar past, apparently oblivious to him. I felt a twinge of guilt. How much longer would he have to stand there before someone else picked him up? I put the van in gear and rolled up by him.
"Thank you for stopping," he said as he climbed in, flashing me a friendly smile. As if nothing had happened. I grunted and pulled out into traffic.
"You know," he commented after a while of silence, "It doesn't matter why you do good."
I glanced at him suspiciously.
"A lot of people do good because they're afraid of how they'll be judged if they don't, either in this life or the next," he continued. "Which doesn't change the fact that they did good and made a difference in someone's life."
"What about people who do good because they want something?" I countered.
"That's not really good," Jesus replied. "You know when it happens, too. When someone does good you feel good, like they've given you a gift. When they want something you feel bad, like they're taking something from you."
"Then what is doing good?" I demanded.
"Doing good is where you do something that makes another person happy and making them happy is all the reward you need," Jesus replied. "That's what love is. Giving of yourself so that others can know the joy you feel."
"Is- is that why you died, then? For love of us?"
"No." Jesus shook his head. "I died because the Pharisees needed to shut me up. My message was a threat to the authoritarian structure of the church. All I really said was that God is love, and that to receive it all you have to do is open your heart and let it in. If people start doing that there's no need for a church and suddenly a whole bunch of clerics are out of work."
"But- if Got loves us why- why does he led bad things happen?"
"He does that because he loves you," Jesus pronounced, gently but firmly. "He loves you to profoundly he's given you the greatest gift he can: the right to discover His love for yourself. Nobody likes being forced to do something. He could reveal Himself and tell you exactly what he wanted and you'd do it because, well, He's God. But it wouldn't mean anything to you. Just something you do because you have to, like when your parents tell you to clean your plate or take out the trash. Ask yourself this: what could you, as individual, or even humanity, as a species possibly do that would mean anything to God? He created you, he created the planet, he created the universe. Against that, anything us humans can do is a fart in a windstorm. Not even a fart in a windstorm."
"Then what's the point?" I demanded sharply.
"The point is that He loves you," Jesus insisted. "He loves you so much He gave you the very things that brought him so much joy and wonder. When He made you in His image he wasn't talking about your body." He punched me in the shoulder. "He gave you language. The power to summon new worlds into existence simply by speaking them. In the beginning God said 'let there be light.' And there was. How did he do it? by saying it. Opening His mouth and speaking the words. What He gave you is His own power, the power of the Almighty, the power of creation. But even that's only half of it. What was there before God spoke? Nothing. Formlessness, chaos. By not telling you what to do He's given you that nothing. Into which you can speak and know His joy of watching new worlds spring into being. So you can sit by His side as master of Creation and know the profound love He feels for all things."
My moth worked. I couldn't speak; my throat had closed up tight. I couldn't see; tears blinded me. I pulled over and stopped. When I thought of the run I'd made of my life, of how I'd squandered the precious gift on useless things, I loathed myself so intensely I wanted to die. I slumped against the steering wheel, sobbing.
Jesus laid a hand on my shoulder and rubbed it gently. "It's all right," he said. "I know how much it hurts. To think you've... failed to live up to what you can be." His voice caught; he wiped his face on the sleeve of his robe and took a deep breath before continuing. "That's why I'm here."
Slowly I turned my head. He smiled warmly, wiping the tears from my cheeks. "John, I'm a man. Just like you. I was born, I grew up. I wanted to be a carpenter, like my dad. Because- well, he was my dad. So I worked hard. I learned the trade... but somehow it wasn't enough. I got this inkling that there had to be something more than getting up, going to work, going home, eating dinner, and going to bed. I searched and searched. I talked to priests, wise men, and anybody else I could. I wandered. Then, one day, it hit me." He slapped the side of his head. "Like a bolt from the blue. What I couldn't find in my life, the lack of which made it seem hopeless and unfulfilling, was love. I hadn't found it because it isn't something you can touch or see. No one could give it to me because they didn't have it either. Love existed only one place: inside me. But I still couldn't get a handle on it because I couldn't understand it. I couldn't figure it out. After a lot more struggle I realized it was because there wasn't anything to understand. Love is love, no more and no less. Thinking about it, trying to understand it, just- just muddies it. The love wasn't a part of me, I was a part of it. A piece of the purity and perfection of God, placed within me at the instant of Creation. All I had to do- all I could do- was let go of myself and let the love shine out of me. When I finally did that- an amazing thing happened. People looked at me- and they were moved. The love shining from me touched the love in them and they wanted it. They started asking me how I did it so they could do it, too. What I told them, in a nutshell, is that I let go of me. All that stuff that floats around in your head, those thoughts, feelings, assessments, sensations, memories... it wasn't that I turned it off, I just... let it be. I allowed myself to understand that those things came from me but they weren't me. At that moment everything dropped away. I realized that everything I'd thought was true wasn't. Without realizing it I'd taken all those thoughts, feelings, and assessments and woven them into a reality, then convinced myself it was real. When I let go of the thoughts the reality they created ceased to exist. I found myself standing in nothing- in the place where God stood when He created everything. In that place I spoke- and watched with awe-filled wonder as my word created a new reality, just as God's had. In that moment I became God. Or, you might say, I touched the part of Him He had placed within me."
"But- but if it's that easy-" I began.
"It's not," he contradicted. "It's as easy as saying 'today I'll quit smoking' or 'today I'll start exercising.' It's not enough to just open your mouth and say something. If you say it without meaning it that's a lie and it's the opposite of what I'm talking about. Lying takes away the power of creation."
"Then why do it?" I demanded.
"You know why," Jesus replied. "It reduces the big, unknown, scary world into a small, known, comfortable little sandbox in which you play and pretend you're master of all you survey. Eventually you get so much in the habit of thinking that way you forget it's all just imaginary. And you know what? It doesn't mean a damn thing. everybody does it. Even me. All those people who say I'm perfect, the son of God and all that, it's bullshit. Making me a deity lets them believe their dogma without ever considering the implications of what I said. 'Cause when you're standing in nothing there ain't nobody to tell you what to do. Not even God. You open your mouth, you say something, and zap a world is created. Whatever happens happens and no one is responsible but you. Which also means that no one get the credit but you. Not even God. Yes, He made it possible for you to stand there... but only you make the decision to act. That's what free will is."
"You mean..." I straightened up. "I... can make the world whatever I want?"
"But-" I caressed the dashboard. It felt solid. It felt real.
"You created it," Jesus insisted. "You created it out of something that's with you all the time. You're thinking it right now."
"I..." I huddled back in the seat.
"Say it," Jesus commanded. "Whatever it is, it can't be worse than what I did."
"Huh?" I looked up.
He held out his hands, showing the scars on his wrists. "They killed me, John. And because of it a religion was born that's brought untold pain, suffering and death. What happened to the love? If my message had gotten through none of that would have happened. I fucked up. I fucked up on a scale that goes right off the scale of fucking up. If I'd had the slightest inkling what my word would cause I'd have committed suicide before anyone ever heard of me. All I have to do is show my face and another jihad starts up." he shrugged. "Against that, I seriously doubt there's anything you've ever done that so terrible."
"I-" I could feel it. Like a terrible weight pressing down on me, crushing the life out of me. It sat on my tongue and pressed against my teeth but if I let it out-
"Say it," Jesus said, more gently. "Set yourself free."
"I'm a failure!" I gasped. I didn't feel free. I felt miserable, like I'd opened my mouth and sprayed filth all over him.
"Good." Jesus rubbed my arm. "It was brave of you to do that, John. Now imagine this. Picture yourself standing in nothing, in the place where God created. All around you is seething nothing, formless chaos. You stand there, you open your mouth, and you say 'I'm a failure.'"
I started. In blinding flash I saw it unfold before me. I saw a world growing from my word, like crystals in a hyper-saturated solution. A world exactly like the one I lived in now. With the friends I had, the job I had, the car I had, the apartment I had, the clothes I wore, everything. "But-" I felt like I'd just woke up. "It's just- just- how do I make it real?"
Jesus grinned. "You already have, John. First, you look at your life and you decide that there must be more to it than what you see every day. Then you decide that you want to have that higher being, even if it means the comfortable shelter of your life and venturing out into the great unknown. Finally..." he smiled with such warmth and love I felt my throat closing and my eyes brimming with tears. He took my hand, squeezing it gently between both of his. "You take into your life someone who's been there, someone who'll show you the way and help you when you stumble."
I leaned across the center console and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him fiercely. Words couldn't express the gratitude I felt... and in that moment I felt love. Pure, unadulterated, transcendent joy like I'd never experienced in my life. I grinned and started laughing; I couldn't help it. And Jesus laughed with me.
I put the van in gear and pulled out. I couldn't wait to tell my friends about how I'd found Jesus.
(of my old world and)
(of a joyful new one)