They’re calling it the Divine Vine: overgrown Kudzu on a wire in a Raleigh, North Carolina park — 30 feet tall! It resembles Jesus from the back, his arms outstretched on the cross and head dangling in pain.
The homeless sleep beneath it to gain comfort. The mystical see it as sign of God’s presence. The skeptical see a random flora formation.
It’s always that way with these things. We’ve lately had Jesus showing up in a half-eaten Kit Kat candy bar, in a slice of grilled cheese and on a Las Vegas toilet seat. The first two disappeared in short order, the latter lingered because, as we all know, what happens in Vegas …
As one news report put it, jokes about the Jesus in the Park phenomenon have spread like, well, Kudzu. Someone probably named John quipped for the Kudzu Jesus: I am the way, the truth, and the plant life?
The Shroud of Turin has fascinated the faithful with the idea that the Lord’s image was left imprinted on his burial cloth. A woman named Esperanza (Hope) sees Jesus’ face in a brown stain on the stucco wall of her neighbor’s house in the movie Henry Poole Was Here. Miracles start to happen, like a mute girl named Millie suddenly speaking. Henry still doesn’t buy it.
“Buying it” is sometimes the point, as people commercialize these supposed relics or epiphanies of Jesus. But that’s not always the point. Some of us just want to see Jesus. We long to pull back the veil that separates heaven and earth, the invisible and the visible.
People nearing the end of their lives sometimes report that they see him as they are slipping away. Those who return after near-death experiences say the same thing. Who’s to say? Maybe they did. Or maybe they just wanted to and thought they did.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would be with them always, even to the end of the age. We presume he also meant that for all of us who have followed them in following him. But where are we most likely to see him? Not in Kudzu overgrowth or chocolate confections.
In one of the most Jewish-sounding passages of the New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples about the final judgment when the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats (they look much the same when grazing in the same field). In Matthew 25, he says that the blessed will be rewarded because they saw him hungry and gave him food, saw him thirsty and gave them drink, saw him a stranger and welcomed him, saw him naked and gave him clothing, saw him sick and took care of him, saw him imprisoned and visited him.
They will then ask when they saw him in these states of needs. They won’t remember seeing him so and tending to him. Jesus says, Truly I tell you, inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my brothers [and sisters], you have done it unto me.
When people came to see Mother Teresa in Calcutta, she knew they really came to see Jesus. So she would take them to back alleys to find the sick and the starving. Here, she would say, here is Jesus.
Maybe the reason we want to see Jesus in Kudzu and Kit Kats is that we want to see him on our terms and on our turf. We want to see him in ways that beguile us or bless us, but not in ways that bother us or beckon us to act.
I have decided to look for Jesus more intently. I intend to look longer into the eyes of those I usually avert my eyes from quickly. I wonder if I’ll see him there? Guess I won’t know until the judgment.
George Mason is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.