Let me begin by making an introduction. This is ‘Flat Jesus’. About 10 years ago, a clergy colleague of mine created him as a way for her congregation to keep in touch during the summer holiday, when everyone is away.
She encouraged them to take ‘Flat Jesus’ with them on their summer vacations or wherever they were during the summer. She then asked them to take pictures and upload them to the parish Facebook page so they could all stay connected through Jesus even though they weren’t in church.
I thought it was such a great idea that I asked her to send one to me so I could play along. She did. And that’s how I got my very own ‘Flat Jesus’. I think she picked this one out especially for me. See the ‘peace sign’ on the middle of his T-shirt? Sorta Hippy Jesus. It’s great, right?
This past week, I ventured forth, outside of Sussex County, out of the state of Delaware, for the first time in almost two years to have a short visit with my friends in Astoria, Queens. They had also not been outside of their city. They are members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and really wanted to see some of the portraits of St. John the Baptist on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which was this past Thursday.
So, what was I to do? I had to help them out, right? Off I went to Metro Park Station in Islin, NJ, and then took the train into Penn Station, NYC to meet up with them. But, the car ride from my home to Metro Park is about three hours, give or take, with a few pit stops to stretch my legs.
It seemed a perfect time to take out Flat Jesus and have a conversation with him, going to NJ and coming back, just to help pass the time. Besides, there’s an awful lot going on in the world as well as this morning’s gospel, so I had a lot of questions to ask Him.
The first thing I wanted to know was His thoughts on all this talk about withholding communion from politicians and other public figures who hold positions different from the church.
Jesus shook his head sadly and said nothing. I thought I saw Him moving His finger around in the air. I imagine He would have done the same thing in the ground if He could move but, well, as you can see, He’s laminated.
Finally, He took a deep sigh and said, “You know, I’ve said this once before but it was about a woman who was about to be stoned to death because of adultery. I wasn’t condoning adultery but I was trying to make the point that adultery is not something one does all by oneself, you know? And, the party of the first part was conspicuous by his absence. Besides, no one is without sin.”
“So, what I said to the crowd long ago is just what I would say to all those well-intentioned ‘Men in Black’ today,” He sighed. “‘Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.’”
“Good call, Jesus,” I said. We talked about Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter and Voting Rights and Reproductive Rights and I was surprised by how well informed He was about current events in the United States. I mean, people worship him all over the world, you know? That’s a lot of very different ‘current events’ he has to pay attention to.
“People have always labeled themselves and each other,” He said, sadly. “I really wish they’d quit it. I mean, Israel had not one, not two, but 12 tribes. Religious groups did the same thing. Just look at the Sadducees and Pharisees in my time. And, the Canaanites got slammed because they had their own religious observances outside of Jerusalem. Sort of the way people are now talking about those who don’t come to church but prefer to watch it on a social media platform.”
“So, He said, “I’m not at all surprised by all the different denominations today that are so very, very different and yet they all claim a piece of me. Some of them even claim to be the “true” me which means, of course, that the rest of those who follow me are not “true” or “real”.”
He sighed deeply. “Right now, you’re going through a period intense time of tribalism. You got one political tribe with the mascot of an elephant and another with a mascot of a donkey – which, I have on good authority that, like the whale, God also created just for the sport of it. And there are tribes, which think one race is superior to the other, which is just completely wrong. God created different kinds and varieties of people, not races. And, God didn’t make one better than the other.”
I could tell Jesus was getting a little annoyed because He started to raise His voice when he said, “The only race God created was the HUMAN race.”
I figured I’d better get him off the topic of current events because it was getting Him as irritated as it got me, so I decided to turn to the gospel lesson.
“So, what was up with that woman Mark talks about in this week’s gospel passage? You know, the one who touched your hem without you knowing it and she got healed of her hemorrhage?”
“Yes,” He smiled and said softly, “I remember her well.”
“It kinda reminded me of the first time the Beatles landed in America. ‘The British Invasion’ they called it. People were swarming them and trying to touch them. I was thinking that must have been the way you felt that day by the sea. Like a rock star.”
“Yeah,” said Jesus, “I really hated that. They missed the point entirely,” He said. “It wasn’t a ‘Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show’ like that nice man, Neil Diamond sings. I had stuff to do. Things to teach. People to heal. I was on my way to take care of that little girl who was really sick and could have very easily died. In fact, when I got there, they thought she was already dead.”
“So,” I asked, “what was it like? I mean, the poor woman was desperate. She had been suffering physically and ostracized personally for 15 years. You were completely surrounded like a rock star. Nevertheless, she persisted, and she managed to wiggle her way through the crowds and get close enough to touch the hem of your cloak. And, you didn’t even know it.”
He nodded quietly as he remembered the scene.
“So, what is it? I mean, do you have a huge battery of power that we have access to and all we need to do is get close enough to you to plug ourselves into it?”
Jesus chuckled kindly and shook his head. “That’s pretty close to church heresy, my friend.”
I blushed with slight
embarrassment. “I know, I know. You always initiate, but it IS nice to know
that we have access to an incredible source of power that can change our
“I wish you’d preach about that more often,” Jesus said. “Maybe if we keep saying it, one day people will really begin to believe in the power of prayer.”
“You know,” he said, “I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I made it too complicated.”
“What too complicated?” I asked.
He sighed and said, "Maybe instead of that 'New Commandment', I should have just said something like, 'Be Kind' or, maybe, 'Keep it simple'."
I told Him that maybe it might have been more effective if He had said something concrete. Like, "Take naps" or "Have cookies and milk at the end of the day." Or, "Eat ice cream".
He thought it over and said, "Hey, can't we get a swirl cone of ice cream at McDonalds? I hear they are only 170 calories. And, you know, there’s one just up the road in the rest area."
"Sure, I said. So, I swung into Mickey-D's and got us an ice cream cone. After we finished it He said, "You know, it's hard to hate anyone or feel violent after you've had an ice cream cone. Maybe you're right. Maybe I should have been more concrete. Instead of ‘Love one another.’ Maybe I should have said, “Eat ice cream.’"
"Nah," I said. I think you were right. Give people the operating principle - Love one another - and then let them use the intelligence and creativity God gave them to figure out how to live it out."
"Ice cream is good," He said.
"Yes it is," I said.
"I love ice cream," He said.
"Me, too," I said.
It's always good, but especially in the summer time and you’re celebrating
being out and about and ‘almost back to normal’ after a pandemic.”
"Next week, we're having a special celebration with homemade ice cream. You'll have to make sure to stay for the Ice Cream Sundae Sunday."
"Life is a celebration," Flat Jesus said, adding, "You know, it's a good thing these are only 170 calories, or I'd quickly move from being 'Flat Jesus' to 'Fat Jesus'."
Turns out, Jesus has got a weird sense of humor but He's great company on long drives in a car. Actually, He’s great company anywhere. You don’t need a ‘Flat Jesus’ to start talking to him, but if you think you need a little prompt, just let me know. I’ll let you borrow Him.”
I want to encourage you to "plug into" Jesus through conversational prayer any time. We have this amazing source of spiritual power available to us through Him. Lives will change, and with it, the world.
Until then, just remember to
love one another. And, eat ice cream. It won’t cure diseases and it won’t raise
the dead back to life but it sure helps things feel like normal again.