Last night, I saw Jesus. It was a sweet, uplifting moment that came with the dawn glow over our side fence. Here is the story of sweet Jesus:
For the past year now, I’ve been feeding an unknown critter in my garden shed. I have a little hole in the rear of it, about the size of a cat door, and I set out a bowl or plate of something each night. Sometimes its a scoop of cat food. Sometimes apple cores and peels, or leftovers that have been in the fridge for too long…
Each morning, the offerings are gone, and the plate licked clean. Each evening, puppy Carter and I take a walk together to the shed door, and Carter waits patiently outside while I set down the nourishment.
A few weeks ago, I found myself explaining our little routine to Carter. Carter has a lovely habit of watching my face intently when I speak to him. He acts as though he is hanging on every word I say. So I talk to him a lot. It is wonderful to have someone who is so impressed with my monologues.
“Carter, each evening, we bring this little offering of food to our little shed stranger. We don’t know who she/he is, but we know the food is appreciated, and we here at MillHaven try to be of benefit to all who visit here. We have to keep the faith that there is healing in doing good works. And this is a little bit of good work.”
“In the bible, Jesus asks who will offer food and shelter to the stranger who stands at the door. Perhaps that stranger, Carter, is Jesus himself. Maybe we should call our little visitor Jesus, to remind us of our heart duty to strangers.”
And so the mysterious creature in the shed became Jesus. Then a couple of weeks later, early in the morning when the first shafts of sunlight were bouncing off the back fence, I turned over in bed and looked out into the yard, and saw movement over near the shed. In the sunbeams, a small possum hurried along the fence and out beneath it to the neighbor’s yard.
Jesus! I beamed as bright as the sunbeams, happy to have met my elusive stranger at long last. Then, last night at the close of night, I let Carter out to potty, and startled as he burst out the door and went roaring and snapping at the fence. He didn’t jump up, but stood there, looking up and growling.
I hugged my shoulders and moved forward, straining to see in the flat, gray light. It was cold out, and as usual at that hour, I was stark naked. “Carter, come inside,” I called. He gave one last “woof!” and scooted back up the porch steps. But I stayed out, taking mincing, bare-footed steps across the rough lava gravel closer to the fence.
In the beam of a streetlight, I saw her there sitting quietly on the fence, watching me: Jesus. The possum was small—certainly the same one I’d seen trotting along the fenceline. Her face was round and her snout short and delicate: the face of a female possum.
Carter’s cacophony had little effect on her. She sat quietly looking at me, in no hurry to leave. “Enjoy your meal, Jesus,” I said to her as I turned back to the house to give her some privacy.
I believe I had told the Jesus story to Carter to help remind myself that good works need not be monumental. I often feel—like many—that I don’t do enough, that I am not enough to meet the needs of the world. I tend to dismiss the many tiny good works I do every day and to discount their worth. And in the process, I discount my own worth.
But it occurs to me that Jesus of the Bible was not asking that you prepare a six-course meal for the stranger at the door, or give him your home. Just that you welcome him. The bible implies that a good heart is, perhaps, enough.
Perhaps I will refer to every creature in my yard as “Jesus” for a week or two: Jesus as spider, as possum, as butterfly, as puppy, as husband. How much holiness would that bring to my days? A lot, I think.
Thank you, Jesus, for coming to my door, to my garden, to my house in all your many guises. May I—may we—always offer welcome and nourishment to the stranger.