I was looking through some candid pictures with a supervisor. The pictures were taken at some church party. We stopped to ponder one picture showing a parent who was speaking to their child. The expression on the child’s face was not a smile. But not exactly a frown, either.
“Can’t use that one,” said the person sorting the pictures with me.
“But it’s real life,” I thought. And I’ve even come up with a name for those moments in our lives. They’re the “Ugly Jesus” moments. Those are the moments when Jesus (or Mommy, or Daddy, or the neighbor, or the school teacher, or the police officer, or the sergeant, or the boss) has a different idea than yours. And you will have to give up yours. Because.
The other day I even noticed an Ugly Jesus moment when Jesus was not assuming a position of power or superiority over me to force my decision.
I was running late for my destination but I had to stop for gas. I went inside to pay before pumping. When I got back to the gas pump it was not activating. I pushed all the different buttons, twice. Nothing. I left the pump handle hanging off my car and went back inside to the clerk.
There was now a line of people waiting to see the clerk. Each person was having a particular, unusual, lengthy issue to resolve, so the line was not moving as quickly as I required. I assumed a blank look and invested my time in breathing while waiting. My nose was starting to run. I looked around for paper napkins or towels by the coffee machines. I didn’t see any so I kept breathing and, now, sniffling.
When I finally got my turn, I spoke calmly and said, “I brought my money in a few minutes ago but the gas pump is not working for me.”
The clerk punched buttons, looked closely at computer screens, and finally explained, “I put it on the wrong pump.” OK, I thought, and walked back out to the car. I reached inside my car to grab a tissue to blow my nose before starting to pump the gas. When the tissue was jammed up one nostril I noticed a man who had been wandering around the other cars was walking in my direction. He stepped right up to me before I could pull the tissue down and throw it away.
“I need money to get gas in my truck,” he said, with an anxious note in his voice. I looked at him. A man with no fashion sense, perhaps because he didn’t have money for good clothes either. Or maybe he was dressed for work, a laborer headed where nice clothes were not the smart wardrobe to wear.
I said, “I can’t help you.” What if he was better dressed? I wondered. No, I thought. I still would not be inclined to give him money. I don’t want to encourage it.
The fellow didn’t stay to argue. He took no for an answer. He turned to approach someone else who was pumping gas in their car. I started pumping gas into my car. It took maybe three minutes to finish. By the time I was done I looked around and saw that the fellow was still lingering by his car a couple lanes away. I hung up the pump nozzle and reached for my wallet and started walking in his direction. I had recognized Ugly Jesus, finally.
I don’t know where he was going or what appointments he had to meet. Didn’t ask. Just handed him some money. When I got back in my car I said to Melanie, “Interesting day.” And I thought to myself, You know, Jesus, you make it harder for me by looking so unappealing, so… ugly. But I knew this encounter would not have been better if it had been some beauty queen, flirting and batting her eyes while asking for a handout. I don’t know that I would have been thinking I was meeting Jesus then, either, because I know I wasn’t looking for Jesus at all. I wasn’t expecting him.
The Church of the Messiah in Winter Garden, Florida, has an interesting bit of sculpture sitting on the floor just outside the nave doors. When a fellow deacon showed it to me I only glanced at it. It was a black piece of stonework, looking like some beggar off a Calcutta alley, a shawl over his head, holding out his hand to all passersby. I found it an annoying and pushy attempt at guilt-motivation. I was ready to move on to take a look at the beautiful stained glass windows inside the church.
The deacon saw me moving on and said, “You don’t get it.”
Challenged, I stepped back to look again at the statue. I bent down to try to see the face under the shawl. But I couldn’t see it until I got down on my knees, so I could look up at it.
And see Jesus sitting there. And now I recognized what the strange gash on his palm was.
But I had to get down on my knees, first, to see past the ugly first impression the statue made on me.
I realize I’m not getting down on my knees enough, and too slowly when I finally do. Standing tall on my feet, everything looks ugly and in-my-way. It’s my perspective that is my problem.
And, yes, it’s pretty ugly.