He seems harmless, but the scorn of other villagers nearly drowns out my invitation. His bright eyes and joyous smile cannot hide the hunger shadowing his cheeks and pity prompts me. My own bones are marked and sharp – we have little to share, but my hunger today is for his words. He may hold answers to the questions that sound boldly in my mind but never come through my lips.
Our bare knees grow warm from the fire and the sound of a wooden spoon scrapping rhythmically comes from my tiny hut. We will share our only bowl of rice with this man, each of us eating from the same spoon in turn. Would those joyous eyes glaze over with disgust? Would his lips curl back and his face turn away as a brahmin’s should? Let this be a test of his holy book that claims each man is created and loved by his God.
I watch him offer the bowl to my wife even as his mouth waters from hunger. Bruises cover his limbs, some yellowing, others surrounding raw scrapes. Has he escaped death underneath clouds of stones, his feet racing away from the anger of the mob? My eyes move from the bruises to his face, wondering why my people are so important to him or his God.
With politeness he asks of our family’s faith. I shrug and ask what faith has ever brought to a Dalit. The life of my fathers has ever been the same, no matter what they worship. My wife lowers her head and mutters disapproval; it is an old matter that stews dangerously between us. His head tilts as they begin to speak of atman and moksha, but my brow creases deep. Such things ring empty in my heart and still she clings to them, desperate for anything.
But what of Jesus, I firmly ask aloud and their words fall flat around the smoldering fire. A smile lifts the corners of his mouth and my wife glares. I shrug again. Is that not who he follows? Let him tell us about this Jesus.
He has shown our village drawings, his voice reciting the words in his holy book. None of the villagers can read, and some were suspicious of the spoken claims and commands. He continued to flip the pictures amid the murmurings, showing us many miracles this Jesus did among the outcastes of his world. Why did he help them?
Jesus didn’t see the outward man, he had insisted to the crowd. Jesus saw the soul and came to heal it.
I challenge him, what is this inward man that Jesus sees? Who am I inside? He reaches for his holy book, reading that every man falls far below the righteousness of God. His voice eagerly explains that all religions are vain attempts to reach God through man’s power. With a wide sweep of his arm around our small village, he indicates the limits and imperfections of man’s power.
My wife asks if there is any hope, and he nods assuredly. That is why Jesus came - not just to heal, but to give hope to all who are ever born. He weaves together the picture of a servant, surrendering his own life to make a bridge. All men from the Brahmin to the Dalit must cross this bridge of Jesus or be lost. He explains to us that the hope is not in this world, but for eternity – a hope of belonging to and being with this loving God forever.
My brow creases again and I retreat alone into my thoughts. Where would I be for this eternity? Rebirth into this world holds nothing but more suffering - the rats in India are treated better than the Dalit. This Jesus offers so much more.
I hear my wife stifle a sob. She lowers her veiled eyes and weeps. Across the fire I can see the glaze of tears in his eyes.
“Jesus values you as well Nadir,” he quietly whispers. I blink and swallow hard.
We talk more of what Jesus gave for me, and of what my soul means to him. As I marvel at such love, a strange warmth spreads from the tips of my toes to the ends of my ears. Could this be the feeling of hope flowing through me?
My lips crack open and questions flood out, tinged now with the faith that I have found my answers in this Jesus.
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