An amazing thing happened that night in the little town of Bethlehem. Only a few understood. They were told in advance of the event in which they were chosen to play key roles. The few privileged to hear the announcement of the birth of a baby were aware that something unusual and marvelous had occurred, but what, they did not understand.
There was one, a pitiful, paranoid, little old man who was told of the event perhaps as late as two years after it happened. Fearful of what it might mean for him, many innocent lives were brutally snuffed out at his command.
Prior to that night in Bethlehem, God was known only to his chosen people, the Hebrews. He dwelt among them, at first in a tabernacle, and then in a temple built for him. The few who were allowed to approach him did so with fear and trembling as did Moses on Mt. Sinai.
With the birth of Jesus, God himself entered history. The God of the Hebrews was henceforth accessible to all. Not only that. As he went among his people telling them that the promised Messiah had come, he ministered healing to the physical and spiritual needs of those in need.
When John the Baptist sent one of his followers to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah, Jesus told the messenger, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”
Since the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians have followed his example. The Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world, and those suffering, whether followers of Jesus Christ or not, receive a cup of cold water in the Messiah’s name.
It is through human hands that Jesus touches those in need. This is the theme of Jamie Blaine’s new book, Midnight Jesus: Where Struggle, Faith, and Grace Collide (Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 2015). It is a collection of vignettes that illustrate how the Lord reaches into a suffering world through the life of one who works in a psychiatric ward, answers a crisis hotline, and yes, even as a assistant manager of a roller rink.
As the reader goes with Jamie Blaine from one life in crisis to another, he cannot but be reminded of Mother Teresa who went out into the streets of Calcutta, India, seeking those who suffer unseen by the multitude surrounding them. What compels Christians like Mother Teresa and Jamie Blaine? Blaine explains it this way:
“Jesus said whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me. So when I go see the guy in jail who is crying and kicking the wall, I think, There’s Jesus. And if he’s eating screws and he curses and throws his shoes at me, well, maybe it’s more like, Okay, that’s Jesus’ little brother. Still. Better be patient. Be kind.
“When I drive up at four in the morning to see some woman babbling to aliens and doing the tango hustle through her neighbor’s yard with tinfoil wrapped around her head and no pants on, There’s Jesus. Or at least his little sister. So find her some pants and bring her cold water. Sit on the back steps and listen to whatever story she needs to tell. Do the best I can to help her get from where she is to where she needs to be. Because someday Jesus will meet me just outside the gate, and I don’t think he’s going to ask where I went to church or how many Bible verses I memorized. He’s going to say, “Where were you when I was sick? When I was in jail? How about when I was hungry? Where were you when I lost my mind?” (pp. 196-197)
Waiting curbside with a drunk for a hospital van to come and pick the poor man up, Blaine hears the Gospel in the form he, the drunk, has tried to fit to his life:
“You ever just look around at life and wonder what in the world is goin’ on down here?”
“Sure. Who don’t?”
“Exactly. Even in the Bible, son. Every one of them characters in that book wondered the same thing at one point or another. If you ain’t ever really read it close, check it out seometime. See for yourself.”
“All right,” I tell him. “I’ll check it out.”
“Like, whose idea was all this?” He holds out his hands like Moses before the sea and pivots from the Jiffy Lube to Taco Bell. “I ain’t asked to be born. Ain’t asked to die. Sure ain’t asked to be judged. I ain’t signed up for none of this. But here I am.”
After a pause, he continues:
“Even Jesus Christ hisself wasn’t so sure sometimes, was he?”
Minutes pass as Blaine and the derelict wait for the van. Blaine probes him about how many drinks he has drunk during the day. “Just one,” he answers, then continues his sermon.
“So anyway, my point is, you see, maybe God said, ‘Well, before I judge ’em too hard, I might oughta walk a mile in their shoes.’”
“So he come down to earth as a little baby, fought with brothers and sisters and worked in the family woodshop. Tried to go tell people the good news and his friends screwed him over and then—them religious folks kilt him.”
“And maybe, when Jesus got back to heaven he kicked off them shoes, looked at God, and said, ‘Dad, it’s rough down there. Go easy on ’em.’”
When Blaine asks his companion, “How’d you come up with that?” His reply is simple, but profound. “I got lots of time to think.” (pp. 40-42)
After the hospital van picks the man up and drives off, Blaine is left reflecting on how truth is found in strange places.
Jesus continues his earthly ministry as his Holy Spirit embodies and empowers his followers who are his body. But, as is seen in the Bible, he also uses “perverts and murderers, prisoners and women of ill repute,” the weak and foolish.
Midnight Jesus is not an inspirational book in the normal sense, but it does inspire. It is not a theological study or a commentary, but it does compel the reader to think about his or her faith and commitment as a follower of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. One cannot follow Jamie Blaine as he moves among the forgotten casualties of a fallen world without confronting the question Jesus Christ asks of us, “Where were you when I was . . . .”
This is a book that needs to be read.