Dr. Jim Somerville: Jesus the Atheist

Several years ago, my mother-in-law found a handyman to help her around her house in Texas.  His name was Jesus (pronounced "hay-soos"), and even though we knew how his name was pronounced it was funny to get a letter from Lu telling us that Jesus had fixed her plumbing or painted the living room.  Over the years he got to be almost one of the family, and when we heard that he had solved some crisis or come to Lu's rescue we would smile and say, "What a friend we have in Jesus!"

So, when we heard that he was bringing Lu's furniture to Richmond in her recent move we were excited.  Christy said, "I get to meet Jesus!"  And she did.  He arrived with two helpers at mid-morning on Saturday and didn't finish unloading the truck until six that evening.  Christy went with him to drop off the truck and pick up a rental car so he could drive back to Texas.  At some point she confessed to him that she had enjoyed knowing "Jesus" was taking good care of her mom.  He smiled and then said, quietly, "It is funny.  My name is Jesus.  I was born on Christmas day.  But I'm an atheist."

And that caught Christy off guard.  It was one thing to think of Jesus helping her mom around the house, but another thing to think of Jesus as an atheist. 

I've been troubled about it almost ever since, and wondering what happened.  Did "Hay-soos" get tired of all the jokes about "Jesus"?  Did the other children tease him about being born on Christmas Day?  Did his mother ask him if he could multiply the meager supper she had prepared?  Did his grandpa complain about his aches and pains and ask him (with a wink) if he could do something about it?  Of course that makes me think of the other Jesus, who had to put up with a lot of that kind of thing himself.  Unbelievers were always giving him a hard time and the believers weren't much better.  They kept begging him to heal them, to help them, to feed them.  There must have been some days when he wished his name wasn't Jesus, and there were whole nights when he just had to get away, when he went up on the mountain or off in the wilderness to pray.  But every time he seemed to get up off his knees ready to face the begging, pleading, unbelieving world again. 

Maybe that would have worked for "Hay-soos" the Handyman.  Maybe if he had let those taunts and jeers drive him to his knees he would have grown closer and closer to God, rather than further and further away.  At this point in his life there probably isn't much that would convince him that prayer is the perfect response to life's hardships.  He's probably just relying on himself and his own strength, on his own ability to deal with the world.  That's fine for the little things, like how to get a load of furniture from Texas to Virginia, but it won't help much with the big ones.  And so, if "Hay-soos" won't pray, I'm going to say a prayer for him, and maybe you could, too.  I'm going to pray that he will learn to love the name he's been given, and feel a kinship with the one who carried it before him.  And when I'm feeling bold I will pray for even more than that, that he will become a passionate believer.  Although I have to admit it feels a little odd asking God:

"Help Jesus become a Christian."

[Taken with permission from Jim Somerville's blog. Originally posted 6/13/2011.]