Whose side are you on, Jesus? I ask, as he sits down across from me. I have been reading the latest news about Israel and Palestine, trying to avoid the pictures.
Haven’t you seen any of the interviews I’ve given this week?, he retorts, wincing visibly. I immediately feel bad. Usually Jesus appreciates my sense of humor, but not today. Now I notice that Jesus looks different than he typically does when we meet. Usually he is Chicagoan, occasionally female, and more often than not, down on his luck and in need of getting somewhere. But today he looks like the “historical Jesus,” the brown skin, the beard, even the clothes.
Jesus, Christ! I shout, cursing my lack of sensitivity to his homeland’s plight, but sounding like I’m using his name in vain. Jesus is picking at his thumbnail, pretending not to notice. His nail bed begins to bleed, and he puts his thumb in his mouth, looking for a moment like a grown-up toddler, or one of my Italian relatives about to flaunt an obscene gesture. When he gives me one of those long looks, which in some ways is worse, I know it’s better not to look away.
I look into his eyes, and maybe for a moment, maybe an hour, see what he sees. Pieces of his life. An infant refugee, crossing into Egypt in someone’s arms. Something he could not possibly remember, yet it is as much a part of his bones as his mother’s milk. Coming of age in an occupied land; asking questions and, feeling the tension in the adults’ voices — in their bodies — being shushed. Feeling his voice deepen at the threshold of adolescence, realizing he had more power in his words than in his fists. Oh, that son of Joseph, he can talk his way out of anything.
Until that day in the synagogue, when he announced the ancient prophet’s text like it was today’s news, he continued to have his way with words: He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he took it too far and never managed to walk it back. Why didn’t someone shush him then?
He pretended that his home town’s rejection did not bother him, but it did. In fact it hurt every time people came to see him, hoping for a glimpse of a warrior leader but walking away disappointed when he did not call his people to arms. Instead he raised his arms in prayer. They seemed to think he did not care about their suffering or their liberation. But he did. So much. With every breath. To the very last breath. Jesus was on the side of his people. The problem was, people did not like how expansive his family became.
I’m not crying, you’re crying!, he jokes, weakly. But there I am, blubbering over that broken, sacred heart of Jesus. It is kind of an inside joke. He knows I am always up for a good ugly cry.
If you had bothered to watch the interviews, Jesus continues, wiping his nose, you would have heard me say, “you are asking the wrong question. I have come to liberate your hearts and minds from this two-sided prison. I have come to say that the only side to choose is the side of love. That is where you will find me. That is where you will find life. That is how you will save your lives…” he trails off.
I see Jesus’ thoughts again. They travel to the family from Gaza waiting at the Egyptian border, praying to be granted passage. To the Egyptians, poised on the other side to offer aid. To the mothers of the disappeared, doubled over with grief. To the young soldiers amassing, preparing to wage a battle centuries older than them.
I reach for Jesus’ hand and, because he is already there, I miss.
I return back to the computer screen, the relentlessly-updating headlines.
This time I look at the pictures. I look for him. Now. He is in every one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angela Paviglianiti practices social work in Chicago where she also completed seminary; however, she has not yet mastered divinity. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, you can find her at The Fireplace Community, and on other days, you can usually find something she forgot there.