Of all the television shows and radio programs that have gone off the air, one of those that I miss the most is “Car Talk”, from NPR. Two brothers who ran a repair shop, Bob and Ray Magliazzi, would take calls about spark plugs and gas additives and body work that would eventually turn into discussions about the caller’s relationship to her mother-in-law or the origins of baking soda or how to talk to the IRS about some overdue payments. They took calls from anybody. One time someone called them from the space shuttle.
So, what would it be like, I wonder, if Jesus had a show like that?
Jesus: Hello, you’re in the – I’m mean, you’re on the air.
Mark: Hi, this is Mark. I’m calling from Phoenixville.
Jesus: Yes, I know.
Mark: Yeah, sorry about that.
Jesus: Hey, it’s okay. The listeners don’t know. By the way, did you know your number comes up on caller ID as “SPAM”?
Jesus: Just kidding. Relax. What can I do for you?
Mark: Well, I had this really weird experience a few weeks ago that I thought you could help me sort out.
Jesus: Which one?
Mark: The soup kitchen thing.
Jesus: Oh, that! That was a good one!
Mark: Yeah, well…
Jesus: Go ahead and tell everybody what happened. I know some of these folks were there, but most weren’t.
Mark: Okay, so back in July, it was a hot Monday night and we were serving dinner in the basement of St. Peter’s.
Jesus: Chili, wasn’t it?
Mark: No, it was hot.
Jesus: The chili?
Mark: No, the weather.
Jesus: The chili.
Mark: What? The weather was hot. We were serving chili. The chili was mild.
Jesus: You weren’t serving chili. You were serving people.
Mark: Yes, but chili was on the menu.
Jesus: Does that have anything to do with the story?
Mark: No, not really.
Jesus: Then forget about it. Just go on.
Mark: Anyway. When the meal was over, one of the guests just walked into the kitchen while we were cleaning up.
Jesus: I know him. He can be a bother, can’t he? I think he asked you when you would start serving seconds about every ten minutes the whole evening.
Mark: You do know him.
Jesus: Hey! You’re surprised?
Jesus: So go on. He walks into the kitchen, which is your space, behind the counter that you keep between you and the clientele, so that there’s a sharp division and you can keep some kind of sense of being in charge and convey that to others.
Mark: Now, that’s not fair. There would be chaos if everyone could wander around the cooking and serving area.
Jesus: Am I totally off base? I mean, totally?
Mark: Never mind.
Jesus: I thought so. Go on. He walks into the kitchen.
Mark: He walks into the kitchen and asks for a pair of pliers.
Jesus: What for?
Mark: He didn’t say. I was just kind of taken off-balance. I mean, why would I carry pliers with me to the soup kitchen?
Jesus: Maybe you should.
Mark: What for?
Jesus: Just finish the story. You and I know, but the listening public is waiting with bated breath.
Mark: Anyway, I told him there were no pliers but asked why he needed them.
Jesus: There was your mistake. You went beyond his question. You connected – always a dangerous moment. One time there was this guy named Zacchaeus, who had climbed a tree … no, let’s hear your story.
Mark: This man pulls out a stool from the counter, swings his right foot up over his left knee, and starts waving the bottom of his sneaker around to show me something.
Jesus: Which was?
Mark: There was a piece of wire sticking out. So I took my keys out of my pocket and used one of them as sort of a lever to pull on it. It came out easily, which made me wonder why he didn’t just pull it out himself instead of waving his stinky shoe all over in front of my face. The part I had pulled had a rounded end but the part that came out looked like a paper clip that had snapped off when you bend it. I told him I thought there might still be a piece of wire stuck in the sole of his sneaker and showed it to him. That’s when he said, no, it was the whole thing, and I looked closer and saw that it was a fishhook.
Jesus: Those things can be dangerous. I used to spend a lot of time around fishermen. I was always relieved that those guys generally used nets. Peter was incredibly clumsy. Nobody ever tells you that. That’s one reason I got nervous about him carrying a knife. I always told him to be careful he didn’t cut off his finger. Instead, he ended up cutting off somebody’s ear and I had to reattached it under some very difficult circumstances. But this fishhook?
Mark: I didn’t exactly expect a fishhook in Phoenixville.
Jesus: Why not?
Mark: I just didn’t.
Jesus: How did it get there?
Mark: He stepped on it, obviously.
Jesus: In Phoenixville?
Jesus: So it must not be so unusual.
Mark: Yes, well, the guy said that he wasn’t surprised because there were fishhooks all over down there.
Jesus: Down where?
Mark: I would guess by the canal or the creek.
Jesus: You didn’t ask?
Mark: No, I didn’t ask.
Jesus: Why not?
Mark: I guess I had heard enough.
Jesus: You mean that you didn’t want to hear more.
Mark: Now, come on.
Jesus: No, you brought this whole thing up. Let’s finish it. You had your suspicions and didn’t want to hear more. You didn’t really want to know more about what this guy’s life is really like, that maybe there are people hanging out under the bridge or someplace in unpleasant conditions, for whatever reason sent them there (and we won’t even go into that right now). You just wanted to do your good deed for the day because you were tired or whatever, to hand someone some chili and a salad – which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong – but then not to have to deal with the bigger problems that cannot be solved in fifteen minutes and require you to see a person, not just a shoe that makes a weird tapping sound.
Mark: Why do you always do this?
Jesus: It’s my job. Listen, if you really want to get this whole discipleship thing right, here’s how it goes:
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [Luke 14:12-14]
If you’re doing something to make someone happy and to help people out, that’s great. Only, you’ve got to do it for them, not yourself, not for the warm fuzzies or anything like that. And sometimes you may not like what you see, about them or about yourself. And that’s okay.
Jesus: Yes, because it’s not your job to make those calls, and I tend to be more understanding than you are. And speaking of calls, I think we have a few other folks on the line, so I’m going to let you go.
Mark: Thanks for your time.
Jesus: You’re welcome. Just don’t think I’m letting you off the hook. Ha, ha, ha! Take it easy now! And let’s go to Sunil in Sri Lanka. You’re in the – on the air. …