I saw Jesus once.
Bihar, India, 2013. The room was hot and humid. As drops of sweat clouded my eyes, I looked at Kari—she sat at a table on the other side of this large concrete room. Gracefully, Kari moved her hands across the threads wound into newspaper clippings. The clippings were in the shapes of kids clothing; women in the room, one by one, were bringing clippings to her. My friend Biju leaned over and whispered to me: “She is testing them. She was once destitute, but through our empowering women program, she learned to be a seamstress and is now self-sustaining; she teaches these women to be the same.”
Looking into Kari’s eyes as she worked, I realized that this is what Jesus, the carpenter, does. This is Jesus, working through her.
At the final judgment, when the world as we know it will reach its end, Jesus says he will say:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:34–40 ESV).
“Lord, when did we see you?” “Here, here, and here,” he essentially says, “among these people, everywhere. That’s where I was and that’s where I am.”
“I am,” God says to Moses, when describing himself (Exod 3:14). Inherit in his self-description is the question, “Then, who am I? Where am I?”
I’m not sure about you, but when Jesus comes again, I want to be found with the impoverished. Because as I understand it, that’s where Jesus is. Kari knows this and lives it: Kari sees Jesus everyday. And when I see Kari, I see Jesus.
Kari showed me each of the beautiful creations of these wonderful women, one by one. The colors were as bright as India; the threading as delicate as the balance of a good curry. In the colors, I saw beauty and hope. I saw Jesus turning craft into livelihood, and livelihood into freedom. Here he is, where am I?
I already knew that I wanted to empower women in Bihar, India. I desired to help them take their craft to the next level, so that they could sell products on the western market, generating more income for their families and communities. But it was in this moment that I realized what this really meant.
I had been given the grand vision of Jesus’ Economy. It was my job to be faithful to its ideas, including connecting entrepreneurs in the developing world to global commerce. But I didn’t really know what that vision meant until this moment.
In this moment, I wondered if I really knew Jesus at all. Because looking at the way Kari represented the great carpenter, I wondered if I would ever represent him as well as she did. In the colors and the smell of curry, I saw hope not just for these women, but for my own heart.
As I looked at Kari, I thought of Mary the mother of Jesus.
Mary’s response to God was simple:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 ESV).
In Kari, there is this type of obedience to Jesus. And as a response to Jesus, Kari has chosen not just to rise out of poverty, but to help others do the same. She knows what it means to share the heart of God. She could capitalize on her skills and monopolize, but instead she teaches her skills to others, because that’s what Jesus would do.
Like Kari, Mary didn’t just become Jesus’ disciple; others came along with her.
“But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25 ESV).
When all of Jesus’ disciples leave, but John, it’s three empowered women at the cross.
Mary’s heart must have been palpitating, as she watched her son suffer and die. As the tears streamed down, she must have felt his pain as only a mother can. And then it happens:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26–27 ESV).
In this final moment of Jesus’ life, his concern is for his mother. Is he telling her, “Behold, your son!” (speaking of himself) or is he looking at John the Apostle and saying, “Behold, you son”? Either way, the love of this moment is painful to watch. Jesus knows that Mary will need someone now to care for her. Joseph, Mary’s husband, is likely dead at this point and as a widow of this period, Mary needs a male to look after her, as she has little hope of survival in her culture otherwise.
Mary, as the first to truly know and understand Jesus, is the one to watch him die. She shows what it means to be a true disciple.
When I examine Mary’s heart against my own, I know that my own heart is lacking. It’s selfish and ugly; there is much growth yet to happen. My heart is not like Mary’s; nor is my heart like Kari’s.
At the foot of the cross, in the dirt, surrounded by enemies, we see what it means to follow Jesus. Coming off the dusty road in Bihar, India, looking into the eyes of Kari, I see beauty. “You make beautiful things out of the dust,” as the band Gungor says, “you [God] make beautiful things out of us.”
God is making beautiful things, in the colors and the curry, and among the impoverished.
I saw Jesus once. Do you see him?
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