Do You Look Like Jesus?

for the week of May 1, 2000
by Rubel Shelly

The local newspaper in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, carried the headline "Man Who Looks Like Jesus Arrives" the day after Carl Joseph came to town.

Joseph has wandered through forty-seven states and thirteen countries over the last nine years. A picture of him in the Washington Post looks very much like the Jesus of movies and storybooks. Flowing hair, beard, head at an angle, white robe he has the standard look of a Hollywood Jesus of Nazareth.

He is a 39-year-old man with Catholic background who sometimes hitchhikes but usually walks everywhere on bare feet. A Post story said: "He owns nothing but the robe and blanket he wears on his back and never takes money for any reason. For food and shelter, he relies on the goodwill of people he meets along the way. Somehow, he is always immaculate, down to the fingernails."

The controversial man who was once arrested in Toledo for trespassing at an adult theater draws big crowds. They listen to him for hours on his typical theme of God's love and grace. When he stops, hands go up. "Why do children die?" asks one. "Are angels real?" another inquires. "How can we be happy?"

Joseph doesn't claim to be Jesus, just that he tries to model his life on Jesus' example. And people trust him with their innermost thoughts. They tell him about their drug addiction or depression. They ask him to pray with them.

I'm not urging you to give up business attire for white robes and to go everywhere on bare feet. Maybe he's just "nutty." But there's more to the story . . .

A woman who had lost custody of her two sons because of drug addiction asked to talk to the man, and he obliged her. She has stayed clean since that day. A physician asked him to speak with a woman whose husband was dying. He did. They prayed together. And she found peace in coping with his death. All of us need someone to challenge our cynicism and invite us to focus on God.

The task of Christians is to furnish a sense of what it is like to have Jesus roaming the world. Wherever we go, the winsome aroma of his presence should surface. Chaos gives way to calm, fear to hope, indifference to unfeigned concern. People begin to trust you, ask you to pray for them, and take heart from your concern. Such a presence changes situations and people for the better.

Your task today is to re-create Christ's presence. Treat people so they will know that someone who "looks like Jesus" took the call, handled a complaint, sensed the anxiety, or shared the grief. The secret isn't clothing; it's attitude.

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