Whatever subject; the first lecture after lunch always challenged our concentration. The reason was—to slightly misquote Sherlock Holmes—purely alimentary; as our digestive systems launched guerrilla raids that ambushed blood-flow to our brains.
As final-year students we were a paradox. Having learned so much, we had so much yet to learn. So much expected of us, but despite our calling and any vision of what might be, we knew not what to expect of ourselves. After three years of intense academic studies and personal struggles, we now focused on practical tutorials in pastoral care, counselling, administration, comparative religions and Christian education skills.
Today, the warmth of the early afternoon sun was streaming in through full-length windows; a silent, powerful weapon in the hands of our gastronomic guerrilla-raiders.
Alertness was already retreating as we opened our books, when the lecturer’s voice broke through, “Gentlemen, today’s guest needs no introduction. You already know him.”
We looked up, blinking into a sudden radiance before falling on our faces. What could we say?
Jesus was suddenly there with us.
The aura faded as if somehow he had set it aside. Then, looking just like one of us, he relaxed against the lecturer’s table, slowly swinging his foot over its front while keeping his other foot on the floor.
“Fellas, there’ll be enough bowing at the end of time,” he said, his voice quietly resonating with inviting warmth and passionate authority. “Please sit back and relax; I’m here to encourage you.”
Our hearts matched David’s in Psalm 45:1—poised like the pen of a ready writer.
“What are people saying about me?” he asked, gesturing towards the windows.
“Most people use your name as a curse,” we replied sadly.
He clearly shared our frustration; but then his eyes pierced into each of us, “But what about you guys—who do you say that I am?”
“Oh, we know who you are,” replied Jake, with a smile. He was right into theology. “Eschatologically, you are the ontological ground of our entire being. You are the kerygma in whom we find the ultimate fulfilment of all our interpersonal relationships!”
And Jesus replied, “What?’”
He was unimpressed. “That’s all true—
with lots more—but how many regular people use exotic terminology like that?
“Just imagine how many people would have hung around for more if I’d described heaven as I’ve seen it. No, I told parables about life here and now, with all its ups and downs, based on the exotic idea that God loves people for who they are inside—instead of how everyone else sees them. And as they responded to these stories, or as they were healed, they found that they could step into heaven—or God’s rule in their hearts—as they let him handle their fears, their fights and their frustrations.
“As you follow me into your world, and share what you see with your church folks—with regular language instead of exotic jargon—they will be able to share their faith more clearly.”
Time stood still.
Our hearts kept burning as he continued. There was so much more that we wanted to know.
Then suddenly he was gone.
Our lecturer’s voice huskily broke the silence. “Gentlemen, let’s close in our own silent prayer and make our own way out.”
I’ll never forget the day Jesus came to college, and I’ve mentally revisited that tutorial many times since. Its exotic but intimate pearls keep coming right when they’re needed...
“Take God more seriously than you take yourself. And learn to laugh at yourself—or others will do it for you…
“Studying scripture is for more than sermon preparation; it’s for keeping you in tune with what people—including you—need to know when you have no time to prepare…
“Don’t try to protect the truth; let it protect itself…
“As the Word became flesh in me, let my word become flesh in you; so you may demonstrate as well as declare my grace...
"Recognise and release your people’s giftedness; for ministry is not your personal possession. I desire for them to continue with me in the ministry that I began all those years ago…
“Let the world become your parish; don’t let the parish become your world…
“Value your marriage and your family more highly than your church diary; for they are my gift to keep you earthed and credible...
“Once you realise that ministry is humanly impossible, we can really start making some progress…
Author’s note: This story—based on a variation of Matthew 16: 13 – 17 and reflections on years of pastoral ministry—is not true; though it would have been nice…
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