That night, we pack our bags and prepare to leave Hotel Heaven. Later that evening, I have coffee with Seth, which – for all his musical tendencies – is kind of like having coffee with Jesus.
“The first time I came over to India, I was in a place in my own life, trying to understand from an ideological level, the poor and what Christian faith is supposed to look like and what kind of responsibility we have and what salvation is and all these different things,” he says.
“Jesus led a really interesting life. And the kinds of things he did aren’t always the type of things we associate with Christianity, or even Jesus. The gospel obviously, means the good news. And the gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God. The question is, what is the kingdom of God? And that was the question Jesus was answering. He would talk with people and say, ‘The kingdom of God is like this – it’s like a mustard seed. The kingdom of God is like 10 virgins. The Kingdom of God is like a banquet. The kingdom of God is like seed. The Kingdom of God is like a man who finds a treasure in a field.’ He was subversive to the common wisdom of the day. He said, ‘You’ve heard it said this…I’m telling you something else.’ That was particularly poignant when he talked about the poor.”
“So, all these things were going through my mind as I’m experiencing it firsthand – I’m meeting these people and I’m realizing…Oh, these are the people Jesus was talking about. He came to tell those people, “in this world, you don’t have hope, you don’t have a voice, you don’t even have food to eat, but I’m telling you that first of all, I’m one of you, and secondly, there’s a kingdom out there where you belong. And that message is an explosion of hope for people who otherwise don’t have any.”
He pauses, hesitantly.
“Jesus said the road is narrow for people like me…white, upper class. That road of the kingdom of God for those people is narrow. That’s why Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. And it woke me up to say, “I have a responsibility. I will be called on all this stuff one day. I was in the back of the car, riding along the roads of the bumpy roads of India when I realized the relationship of faith and works together. You hear all the time that you’re not saved by works. But James clearly says you’re not saved without works. Works are not what Jesus wants as payment for salvation…he wants them when they are an outpouring of a faithful heart.”
The next day we all board the plane at the Calcutta airport for a 3-hour flight to Mumbai, then on to the U.S. On the flight home, I think about the questions of Jesus again.
To what then can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?
What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell in the hands of robbers?
I’d love to hear a 21st century interview where Jesus answers everything he’s asked with a question. It would be a fantastic clip on The Tonight Show. Then I realize…he’s kind of already given that interview.
One of the very last questions Jesus ever asked, he asked the Apostle Peter.
“Peter, do you love me?”
Peter said, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Then again, “Do you love me?”
Feed my sheep.
“Do you love me?”
Feed my sheep. 17
And we are all Peter, hurt that he would ask us three times, yet not fully comprehending. This is it. This is the main point. I’m not going to tell you how or when – just love the people I put in your path.
One day you may walk into a Calcutta slum – an area that needs your help. Maybe you receive a “call” one day. Or maybe, you just help your neighbor. Love the person in front of you. Love without fear or hesitation. Love without getting tired.
Several years ago I had a dream of Jesus. I’m not the type to have wild dreams, but this one I remember very clearly. I was in a garden with lots of strange creatures. I was walking by a small pond and all at once the creatures stood up and started moving behind me. I knew, without turning around that Jesus had entered the garden. He didn’t have long hair – his hair was shorter and a little bushy, like it had been shorn haphazardly and grown in wild. It was brown, but streaked with a little blonde, like it had been in the sun and I remember thinking “wait until I tell everyone that Jesus has highlights.” I moved closer – he had some people on his left and on his right, but I don’t remember them. He was speaking to them in a different language. I moved closer and knelt down at his feet – close enough to touch his sandal, but afraid at the same time. After all, he was God.
At the time, I had several questions I had been praying about – I honestly don’t remember them now – thoughts, attitudes and actions I was sure Jesus would rebuke me for. I remember kneeling in front of him with a sinking feeling thinking, “ I wonder what he will say to me?”
Then, without turning from those he was speaking with, he lowered a hand toward me. I couldn’t understand the language, but I could understand what he was saying – he was speaking blessing over me.
Here’s the odd thing – I remember in my dream actually being disappointed.
“No!” I thought stubbornly. “Not fair! You’re supposed to tell me what to do.”
But there it was. And I woke up.
Was it a dream, or was it real?
I don’t know. But I do know if I really encountered Jesus, I doubt the encounter would go much differently.
And it is Jesus, of course, who has his priorities straight. God tries to offer us his blessing and we want him to be an alternate between a genie and a fortune teller. We want him to be specific, but sometimes he is silent and just offers his blessing.
I wonder if it is an invention of the West that there has to be a “Call” (with a capital “C”). It’s not that we don’t need to pray or think carefully about how we use our time and resources – we do.
I think of Mother Teresa’s eloquent phrasing of her specific mission to the poor of the slums – “the call within the call.” A lot of wisdom in those five words.
The more I witness of God’s kingdom, the more I observe: sometimes there is an actual “call,” and sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes God needs us in a certain place and he calls us. Sometimes there’s so much need we can pick.
Having an oracle handed down from God – a definitive “call” is a blessing. But I’ve realized, having no specific call – the ability to choose who to serve and where to go – the gift of freedom to choose is a blessing too.
The truth about callings is, sometimes we don’t hear it.
We find it.
As we walk through international customs at the Newark airport, we walk under a sign that says, “Declarations.” The sign is kind of bossy and it seems fitting to declare something.
“I love India,” says Melanie.
All I can think about at the moment in my jet-lagged state is loving coffee.
Tired and worn we collect our carry-ons and move to the window, where we watch the light break over the Manhattan skyline. A new day is dawning with a soft orange glow.
Halfway around the world, twilight is descending on India. I think of the city of Calcutta, how they wouldn’t like to be associated with such poverty, but they would like to be associated with great love.
Somewhere in the Khasi hills of Meghalaya, inside houses heated only by fires in a grate, there are men chewing betel leaf, betel nut and lyme. They smoke pipes, mixing kwai and staring into the fire, swapping stories about the day. As rain slides off the roof, battering the pavement, I wonder if any of them today stop and think about the ancient legend – the rich man, poor man and the thief. How the creator sees three dead men and decides to make something simple that can be offered to visitors. So both the rich man and the poor man will have something to offer their neighbor.
And of course, we do.
I watch the daylight slowly start to pour over the New York skyline. Americans just waking up…an entire country with different needs.
Where should I go? What should I do?
The answer to this may be different for each person.
However, if you ask the trucks of India, in their ancient wisdom, I know what they would tell us…
Awaz Karo. Make some noise.
Find people to love. And make some noise.
*Start at the beginning: read the full journey here.*