Four young people arrived at their destination on a dark and stormy night. They were on the run, they were trying to escape trouble. It was a frightening place, and when they arrived at the inn, they didn’t find the person they expected: Gandalf wasn’t there and no one knew where he was. It was a place of strangers, and behind every face seemed to be a threat.
The most threatening figure was sitting in a corner by himself, smoking a pipe and watching everything carefully. The other folks in the inn kept their distance from him, he was someone of obvious power, but it seemed to be a power to stay away from. He was dirty and his clothes looked worn.
Most of the hobbits didn’t realize how much danger they were in: they spoke freely about their home and who Frodo was, and Frodo ended up putting on the Ring, almost by accident. His explanation about his disappearance wasn’t really accepted by the folks in the inn, he ended up talking with the mysterious stranger. It turned out the mysterious stranger was the person they were supposed to meet: Aragorn, aka Strider, the only person who could have protected them and taken them on the first part of the journey. As Tolkein describes him in the Lord of the Rings, he “looked foul and felt fair.” As the story went on, his image changed greatly, and he showed who and what he really was.
How we expect to see things can be quite a problem. Take the first reading today about Moses during the Exodus. The people of Israel are hungry, and are despairing of finding food. They’re desperate enough to long to return to slavery so they could eat all the nice things they had back there. I think if I would Moses, I would have said: “You dummies! Remember all those miracles and plagues back there, that got you out of slavery in Egypt? Remember the Red Sea and how an army that chased you was drowned? Do you think God brought you through all of that to let you starve out here?” But in those days, relationships with Gods were more problematic: Gods had to be provoked to do what they were supposed to do through sacrifices, and the last thing you wanted was a God taking a personal interest in you. Remember the Greek myths? Which mortal who had business with a God came out well there?
Of course, Moses is a little more discreet that I would be, and he promises there would be food soon. That evening, there was quail, and they knew what that was. The next morning, there was this strange white stuff on the ground, and they didn’t know. Moses said: “This is bread, eat it.” I’m sure the first person was kind of reluctant to try, but after a short pause I’m sure they figured it out. When they got over their expectations, they found out they had bread to last 40 years until they reached their destination.
How do we expect to see Jesus? It’s natural to try to see him as we’d see anyone with power and influence. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Jesus was pictured as a King much like the King of France or England. Some might find it reasonable to see him looking like Donald Trump or Bill Gates. I know that’s a stretch to visualize that, but perhaps not in expectations of power and influence. But Jesus wasn’t what people expected Him to be, and if we’re not careful, our expectations can keep us from seeing Him as He really is.
How we see Jesus matters to how we live our faith. We haven’t chosen Jesus out of a religious mega mall, haven’t done research about which faith is best and decided the Jesus stories are the ones we like most. Christ has chosen us to follow Him, called us to take on a different identity that the rest of the world. Our image of Jesus isn’t a normal picture in our scrapbook or on our hard drive, it’s an image that’s supposed to shape our lives. Our image of Jesus shouldn’t be a man who settled down and made himself a comfortable life, who wanted to make a profit or seek power. Jesus is the picture of the One who loves us perfectly, who poured out his blood, his life entirely for our sake. That image should be the one that’s always in our sight, if we stay true to the One who’s given so much for us.
It’s a challenge to see Jesus as food, it’s not normal, not something we want to spend time on. It’s a challenge to see Jesus in someone in need, especially if we think that person is undeserving of help. It’s a challenge to see Jesus in someone we disagree with, someone we argue with, someone we dislike or even can’t stand. But perhaps the greatest challenge is to see Jesus looking out of our mirror back at us in the morning. I’m not saying this to make myself more important that I should be, or to pump your ego to the stretching point. But this is how the world should see us, does see us, and how we act is probably how the world encounters Jesus, how they build their image of Jesus. It’s a reason a lot of people have given up on faith, given up on Christ, because we haven’t lived up to our commitment to be Christ for the world. But it’s a great challenge, a frightening challenge, but if we have integrity as Christians, a challenge we have to confront and deal with. Perhaps the greatest challenge of our Faith is not only to see Jesus looking out of the mirror at us in the morning, but to live up to the image we see, to the promise Christ has for the world.