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Jesus was a Jew until John made him a Baptist

I hope you are laughing because that claim is funny. It’s a little one liner story that’s kinda scripture, but it’s not. It’s nonsensical but there’s just enough holy illogic to require some mental gymnastics to get the humor. It’s an insider joke.

I think that’s what Jesus did. In his hands a droll humorous thing like putting a light under a bushel was both nonsensical and profoundly challenging. He was saying some really important stuff about the old into the new, but he needed to grab his listeners’ attention. Jesus was brilliantly adept in his message and gracefully agile in engaging literally everyone, foreign or domestic. 

Fishers of people must have been an absurd knee slapper until they figured it out. Plus he trusted that they would figure it out. Eventually.

My cockamamie snippet is totally absurd in comparison to fishers of people but sometimes, rarely, once in a blue moon, it pops up in my imagination and I use it. Always with people who know something about Jesus — Jews and Baptists. 

Such folk usually pause and then smile. What’s really funny is the laugh. When I inject my little story into conversation there’s no belly laugh but mostly an abrupt eruption of perhaps a singular “ha!” trailed by a smile and a thoughtful pause before continuing the conversation. 

When Nicodemus absorbed the absurdity of being “born again” I imagine maybe that’s what Jesus saw. Maybe Nicodemus’ “ha!” was followed by an “A-ha!” Maybe Nicodemus figured it out.

The newness of born-again/born from above could easily have been efficiently presented in textbook fashion. That seems to be Paul’s (and the Reformers) preferred method. The Spirit, however, injected the Gospels and significant stories in the Old Testament with details a good textbook editor would have edited out. 

Remember Jesus writing in the dust or the 153 fish or that Zacchaeus was short? So what’s the deal? People doodle. Fishermen count fish. Tax collectors come in all sorts of varieties. What do I need to figure out?

Maybe God’s people are so prone to endless parroting of orthodoxy that the Spirit chose to add this wonderful human capacity into the mix. Maybe we need to be more adept at reaching out while trusting that others are agile enough to take it in. Plus the opposite of course. Am I agile enough to see and hear the adept messages from others?

Stepping out a little farther, are our institutions even remotely capable of being adept and agile? From politics and heinous wars to Christian nationalism and unscriptural discrimination, it seems we have a lot to figure out.

I’m convinced that almost everybody is more adept and agile than we think. The world and everybody in it knows the difference between a naive narcissistic testimony and the real McCoy. Even the Pharisee Nicodemus knew the difference. We teach our children to sing about Zacchaeus because everyone everywhere wants the Divine to come to their house. That’s pretty simple.

There’s nothing simple about being adept and agile though. Once I was asked to preside at a funeral for the mother of a colleague. I didn’t know the mother so I met with the kids to gather some insight so I wouldn’t insult her integrity or dignity. 

“What made your mom special?” I asked. “Oh, nothing special really,” was the reply. 

In the silence that followed there came a list describing the normal stuff found in most obituaries. Into the next silence came a hesitant description of her kitchen. “You know, it was always warm in there and the coffee was good.” Silence. Then came an “always seemed to be a lot of people in and out of there” followed by a hesitant “everybody wanted to talk about everything with mom.” 

Turned out that kitchen was a sacred place of healing wisdom, operating right under their noses. Those children astonished themselves as they recognized mom’s adept and agile faith response to her world.

Whenever I’ve told that story, invariably someone comes up with a similar one of their own. They range from accounts of other sacred places, a chance encounter or decision that turned into something beyond their imagination. Also almost always there’s some disclaimer about it being “nothing special,” even when eyes are moist and there’s awe in their voices. Perhaps like Zacchaeus later recalling when the sacred touched his life.

In reality, “nothing special” people take risks with a little discernment attached and create a sacred space where none existed previously. Yet somehow we’ll put such majesty out to pasture under the rubric of nothing special when it’s really adept and agile. In fact, we retain the ability to put a bushel over all sorts of stuff. 

In truth, no cherry picked Bible verses, no advice offered without request, no religious tradition, no entitlements, no pat righteous bromides, no three-point formula, and no disguised narcissism can hold a candle to an adept and agile child of the King.

Nothing special people are a wonder, often known only by God. 

There’s no biblical mandate for such creativity. But then there are no mandates about making kitchens sacred, or climbing Sycamore trees either. Adept and agile people pay attention. Adept and agile people invite participation, opening doors and breaking down barriers. Adept and agile people are seen as genuine and authentic. 

Adept and agile people are salt, yeast, and candles.

While walking around on dirty feet, Jesus taught and acted with eyes and ears wide open. There were always lambs needing nourishment from the shepherd. Jesus did his part before he passed that feeding lambs task on to us with just enough instruction to point us in the right direction. 

It’s up to us to figure it out.

Al Schipper

Al Schipper is a retired chaplain and teacher. He is optimistic by nature and enthusiastic by choice. Retirement brought interim challenges, foreign ministry, Red Cross adventures, and authoring COPACETIC: God’s People Transforming Chaos. Now abiding in Grand Rapids, Michigan but always with an eye toward the horizon.


  • Tom Boogaart says:

    In reality, “nothing special” people take risks with a little discernment attached and create a sacred space where none existed previously.

    Your words turn me around and invite me to look back. Could it be that my experiences were richer, denser (the biblical word is “glorious”) than I was able to take in at the time? Could God have been closer to all of us than I realized?

  • jess says:

    I loved this! You are a gifted writer- thank you!

  • George Goris Vink says:

    Al, my friend. Your writing is something special in itself. Thanks for sharing some stimulating “stuff.”

  • Steven Tryon says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.
    I was a first-rate techie in my working days, but my most cherished accomplishment is that teams seemed to work better when I was on them. It’s hard to put that on a resume.

  • Al Mulder says:

    I totally enjoyed reading this, Al

  • Joanne Fernandez says:

    Wonderful piece. I shared it with my daughter!

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