“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

That was the request of some Greeks who were visiting a festival in Jerusalem, or someplace close by. They ask this of one of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, who tells his friend Andrew. The two of them go to Jesus with the request.

I’ve read this passage many times over the years, but it wasn’t until reading it this week that I realized that we don’t know whether or not the Greeks’ request was granted. Did they get to see Jesus? We’ll never know.

But their desire to see Jesus is one that his followers have had for centuries. It’s behind the lyrics of an Indigo Girls’ song “Hey Jesus,” which ends with this line — “How come I’ve gotta die to get a chance to talk to you face to face?”

And then sometimes we see Jesus when we are least expecting it. Seeing Jesus was the last thing on the mind of the nameless character in Ernest Gaines’ short story, Christ Walked Down Market Street.

It’s a windy, cold, rainy day and all he wants to do is get out of the weather as quickly as possible, when he sees an unkempt man walking toward him.

“You have never seen a more pathetic figure in your life,” he says. “Barefoot. Half of his denim shirt inside his black trousers, the other half hanging out. No belt, no zipper – holding up his trousers with one hand.”

He is determined not to make eye contact with this pathetic figure, not to give him money, to pretend like he does not see him at all. 

But as he passed the figure “reached out his hand in slow motion,” he says. “The palm of his hand was black with grime, his fingers were long and skeletal, I went by him without looking into his face. 

“I made two more steps, then I jerked around. Because I had seen something in the palm of that hand that looked like an ugly sunken scar.”

The man is convinced he has seen Jesus. But when he turns around to look again, the “pathetic figure” is gone. 

The man goes home, but is haunted by the Christ he passed in contempt on the street. He returns and walks up and down Market Street a dozen times, looking for Jesus. Every day for two years he goes back after work, searching, searching, searching.

“When I didn’t see Him again, I got the idea that maybe He would not come back in that same form. Maybe He had already returned in a different form and I hadn’t recognized Him. Maybe He was one of my neighbors.

“Now I searched the face of anyone and everyone I passed. I also looked closely at the palm of all hands I came in contact with, whether it was black or white, whether it was the left or right hand of a store clerk, a bus driver when I got my transfer, or the butcher who gave me my change – I looked at all their hands.”

The man obsessively searches for Jesus for 30 years with no luck.

The story ends with him telling his saga to a bartender, who responds by throwing him out on the street.

“Just get out of here,” the bartender says.

“I’m on my way, sir,” the character replies. “If I hurry, maybe I’ll see Him again!”

Of course, the irony is that in his searching the man has seen Jesus thousands of times and failed to recognize him. And the sad thing is that we have, too, especially when he appears in what Catholic priest Greg Boyle calls “one of Jesus’ least recognizable forms.”

It’s easy in the abstract to see Jesus in the face of the poor, but how about in the face of the woman who appears at the church door with her child just as you’re trying to leave, looking for food and a place to spend the night?

It’s easy to see Jesus in the face of a newborn grandchild, but what about the loud, Q-Anon believing brother-in-law sitting across from you at Thanksgiving dinner?

The truth is Jesus confronts us in the face of every person we meet.

Robert Hudson ends his book, Seeing Jesus, with the story of meeting a panhandler outside a restaurant, and feeling called to help him, partly because he has been thinking so much about what it means to see Christ. 

After giving him some money, Hudson asks the man his name and is stunned when he replies Josh — the Anglicized form of Yeshua, the Hebrew name of Jesus.

“How did you know it was Jesus?” Hudson’s skeptical side asks himself. And then he answers his own question.

“How do you know it wasn’t?”

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