I love Jesus’ ability to change tack for a Kingdom purpose. He takes the tangents that open the way to love, miracles, hope, and a new kingdom. I’m captivated because it’s a discipline for me. Unchecked, I suck at it. With a long list of non-negotiables, I need to regularly remind myself that Jesus’ best work is often in the interstices.
A read through the gospels sees Jesus doing so much good gear as he was ‘on the way’ to somewhere else. Zaccheus? On the way. The woman at the well? On the way. The woman who touched his cloak? On the way. Bartimaeus? On the way.
Check it out:
They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.” (Mark 10)
In each of the tangents, Jesus recognises a bigger opportunity than his timetable. He stops, he props, and he allows an interruption to become a kingdom opportunity.
I just met Vincente. He’s a homeless Filipino with a paranoid schizophrenic disorder. He’s doing ok right now, but sometimes he gets angry. He hears voices in his head and, as much as he’d like to, he can’t get them out.
All I needed was some kale from the community garden for a lunchtime smoothie. Vincente was in there, on his hands and knees, carefully transplanting some parsley and coriander from the path into garden beds.
We had a coffee together as he told me about the best sleeping spots along the South Perth foreshore. He told me about the best public toilets for cold showers. How the best boxes to sleep in are the long skinny ones but, if they can’t be found, then getting a bunch of smaller ones together to form a tube before pulling your hoodie on, does just fine. And he told me that he only thing that would make his coffee taste better was a good cigarette.
Vincente and I bonded over a mutual disdain for the miserly amount of toilet paper dispensed by those metered dispensers in the fully automated “Burt Bacharach” toilet by the Narrows Bridge.
I offered him a sleeping bag. “Too bulky,” he said, but he was more open to the offer of a small blanket.
As I sat with him, I was thinking: “I want to pray with him”, “I want to share Jesus with him”, “I want to offer him a room tonight”, “I want to…”. And I just seemed to hear in return, “Simon, just sit here, love and listen.”
He told me about the time he decided to hitch-hike to Adelaide. When his response to me asking “How far did you get?” was “Mundaring”, I stifled a little laugh. It suddenly felt demeaning. “That’s not too far,” I said as kindly as I could. “Nah,” he replied quietly, “I just came back to the city again”. It suddenly got sad and real.
As I returned with a blanket for Vincente, he was picking up his IGA bag to head on his way. He told me he’d try and return with some seeds to plant. I figure that Jesus was all about that sort of gear. And sometimes hanging around to watch them grow.
It made me glad that the Big Table decided to start a community garden. For even that single exchange. And perhaps the ones that follow. Or not.
Jesus took tangents because they were no deviation whatsoever from his mission. He came to introduce a new kingdom where love was bigger than agenda. Where mercy triumphs over judgement and grace always wins. I am a slow learner in discovering that what I might regard as tangents and interruptions are often the spaces for the primary agenda of God’s Kingdom: love.
That revelation doesn’t necessarily change the list of things I have on a particular day. Nor does it change that I have a couple of jobs. But it shines a brilliant line on the relative worth of them against things eternal.
If I see Vincente again, I pray that I’ll stop in my tracks. I can’t guarantee I will. I challenged myself not to write about Vincente, and I’ve already failed on that one.
Vincente told me when he left that I should plant pineapples in the community garden. Just buy one, cut the top off it and plant it. If you notice one sprouting up in the garden, you’ll know I took Vincente’s advice.