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The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
February 01, 2013
In Need of Batman Wings
“What are you reading?” the boy asked, pointing at the pictures in my book.
My graphic novel wasn’t toddler appropriate, so I replied, “It’s about superheroes!”
“Wow,” he whispered, reverently. His mother, sitting next to him on the train, gently prodded, “You like superheroes!” He nodded vigorously.
I’d met this boy moments earlier, as he pummeled my arm with his restless feet. But now the kicking stopped, and for the rest of our train ride, he painted a magical world for me.
Boy: “I’m a spaceman!”
Me: “What planet are you from?”
Me: “Where’s that?”
Boy: “It’s kinda near the North Pole.”
Me: “How’d you get here?”
Boy: [Stretches out arms like chicken wings and flaps] “I flew on my Batman wings!”
When I got off the train, his mother bid him say goodbye. “Bye friend!” he called.
Jesus in the Ordinary
I’d been trying to see Jesus in ordinary people, honoring him with small acts of love. This train ride had seemed like a chance to practice—by offering my seat to a young mother, cheerfully enduring a toddler-beating, engaging her child while she rested. I thought I was being kind.
But the thought of this small boy’s expansive mind, open to a world of North Pole planets and Batman flights, made me glow with delight, and kept me grinning all evening. And as I considered the encounter, I realized my concept of looking to serve Jesus in the ordinary was too small.
The desire to see Jesus in the ordinary is shaped by passages like Matthew 25, where Jesus divides folks into two groups. One group, the one called “blessed,” had provided small acts of service—food to the hungry, a visit to the sick—to ordinary people. All that time, Jesus says, they were actually serving him.
Imagine: that homeless person asking for change, that toddler kicking us on the train—Jesus in disguise! It’s like a mystery treasure hunt: where will we see Jesus next? There’s incredible potential for adventure, not to mention ending up in the blessed group.
So we look for ways to see and serve Jesus in people around us—by engaging weirdos, for example, or sharing food with people who make us feel awkward. We’re acutely aware that we’re doing this because we love Jesus, and if Jesus is in these people, we’ll grit our teeth and serve them.
We forget that when we encounter Jesus, it is usually he who serves us.
We expect the encounter with Jesus-as-homeless-man or Jesus-as-bratty-kid to make us feel good about our patience and virtue. But we are surprised to find it opens an unlikely window to receive.
I often experience this through a café called Our Place. Our Place has lattes and live jazz, but instead of plaid-wearing, beard-flaunting hipsters, it’s full of men and women who don’t have homes, who struggle with mental illness or addiction. I started coming as a companion, someone who walks alongside in the journey toward healing, because I believed it was right. Two years later, I continue to show up because it has become a critical blessing for me.
Part of this blessing is the joy we are intended to experience when we love people like God does. Isaiah 58 promises that when we spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed, our light will rise in darkness, and God will make us like a verdant garden. I receive this joy at Our Place. It’s a profound privilege to be part of a community that helps people move past their shame and recover their dreams. Though my role often feels inconsequential, it is part of a beautiful, life-giving whole.
But the blessing is not only joy in serving. This motley family is also Jesus serving me. As they freely admit mistakes and accept each other in their broken state, I’m freed from the iron grip of image-management. When an older woman, decades clean from her crack addiction, slaps the table and hollers, “God will provide!”—I can believe it.
Why should this be? Perhaps it is that people who are “not like us” reflect aspects of God we barely know, and engaging them enlarges our own understanding. Perhaps determining to serve Jesus in the ordinary opens us to hear and receive what God is always offering us, but that we are not usually awake to accept. Certainly some of it is mystery—God’s peculiar design of satisfying us as we satisfy the needs of others.
What is certain is that we look for Jesus in the weird and ordinary people populating our routine, not only to give our small service, but because this hidden Jesus offers something beautiful to us.
Jeannie Rose Field works as the Assistant Coordinator for the New York City Price of Life Invitational. It offers countless opportunities to see and receive from Jesus in the ordinary. Learn more at priceoflifenyc.org.