“The Star Market
The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.
An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout
breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.
Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and
hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:
shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market
had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in
with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—
looking for cereal and spring water.
Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car
in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have
been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept
out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands
and knees begging for mercy.
If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,
could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?”
This poem from the1/14/08 The New Yorker caught my eye. What a perspective-shifting work I thought. And within the context of Christianity from which this poem was written, I found myself going back and forth on so many issues that would be instrumental in determining the look on Jesus’ face when he wheels around. Here’s a small section of the winding path of thoughts…
We can be anything from middle of the road (relatively successful, healthy, and nice looking in our reasonably priced clothes) to elite (living in the upper echelon of society looking magazine-shoot-polished) and anything not that (the old and broken down, the young with less than pleasing attributes, the poor, the disabled) can look anything from piteous to mildly distasteful to utterly disgusting to us. And yet every single one of us are that vulnerable, that subject to the possibility of being repulsive to another due to our looks, actions, ideas, or aura.
But could we be repulsive to a divine being that created us, in this case Jesus in the religion he represents, Jesus as God on earth, God incarnate, God being the creator of everything we can and cannot see? The creator, implicated in the Bible to be the ultimate in goodness, so intensely so, that humans cannot look upon the glory of this creator and live (Exodus 33:7-23)? The very same creator, implicated as well to be the ultimate intelligence, so unfathomably and infinitely greater than our intelligence which can barely figure out how a fraction of the whole of creation works?
Would a creator thusly described make something it disliked or despised, such that it could look upon it and pass a negative judgment? The folks in biblical days interpreted God’s reactions to certain events as anger, jealously, wrathfulness, and vengeance. These are very human characteristics and so we might falter, wondering if God could also be fallible in other areas.
In Genesis 1:27 we read that man is created in God’s image, and although we hope that a creator capable of the same reactions as humans at least moderates them wisely, we can still be bothered by the dichotomy. And if we get stuck in that place we can see how, in the Luke 8 parable the poem alludes to, it would be possible to be bleeding for twelve years and reach for the hem of Jesus’ garment with confidence, knowing we’d be healed because Jesus is God, but still risk the possibility of enduring a pathetical or disgusted look from Jesus who is also man.
And certainly this poem’s ability to transport us so graphically there, to the Star Market, does immerse us so totally in the humanity of it. Via the imagery we can feel so disgusted by the wheezing, hawking old man and so appalled by the diseased and near-dead crawling, reaching, that when we get to the last verse we might automatically assume that Jesus, in the crowd that is crushing him, feeling a tug on his cloak, would shout (as opposed to asking tenderly), “Who touched me?!” and turn to look about with indignation showing on his face followed by disgust when he zoomed in on the desperate, bleeding woman in the parable.
But what if we focus on the God-is-love side of Christianity, that God loves his creation, has always loved it, that he looks on it, looks on us, only with love, and that if the wrath of God is released, it is also out of love, as a parent might lovingly discipline their child?
What if we go with the Jesus as God incarnate theory and keep to his track record of looking at outcasts with love, of healing and forgiving all who seek healing and forgiveness for whatever reason? In that regard, would the look on Jesus’ face when he wheels around perhaps be that of the purest love, the deepest, most genuine unconditional acceptance, and we, in our humanness, as doubters and disbelievers in ourselves, cannot withstand it?
What was your first reaction to the poem?
And when all your reactions played out, what did you end up with?
What do you ultimately see in it?
Photos from Getty Images.