Fourth Sunday in Lent at Mississippi Abbey

An overworked businessman, Nicholas Cominsky, stared at the formal dinner invitation he had just received. He thought the guys at work were pulling one of their practical jokes when he read, “You are invited to dinner with Jesus of Nazareth, Milano’s Restaurant – March 24 – Eight o’clock.” He decided to play along and showed up at the proper time. The maître d’ led him to a table where an olive complexioned man with bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes stood up and firmly grasped his hand. “Nick,” he said, “I’m Jesus.” Nick replied, “Excuse me, but am I supposed to know you?” Jesus answered, “Yes.” Nick countered, “But I’ve never met you before.” “That’s true,” Jesus replied. Nick bolted for the men’s room where he expected to see the guys from work hiding behind a lattice laughing at their latest joke. He couldn’t find them. “Enough of this.”  He told the stranger that he needed to get home to his wife and daughter. Jesus replied, “Your wife, Mattie, has gone to a movie with her friend Jill, and she got Rebecca to baby-sit your daughter, Sara.” Jesus suggested, “Why don’t you suspend your disbelief for a while and proceed as if I’m Jesus?” So, Nick did. The rest of this short story entitled, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, by David Gregory, is a delightful conversation between a modern skeptical Nicodemus and a contemporary Jesus.

Nick starts the conversation saying, “Tell me about Mary and Joseph.” Jesus jumps right in, “Joseph was a good father. His shop was next to the house. When he knew I was coming he always tried to finish his work before I could get my hands on it. At eight years old I wasn’t exactly a master carpenter.” Nick reflects, “The guys have hired a professional actor,” and then he asks, “[Was] it rough growing up with such a revered mom?” Jesus chuckles, “She was hardly revered. More like an outcast for having a child before the wedding… But faith kept her going—and her sense of humor. She never let me live down my remark that I had to be about my Father’s business. Someone would come looking for me and she would say, ‘I don’t know where he is; about his Father’s business, [I suppose].'” And so, they spent the night talking about relationships, world religions, and the afterlife. But most of all, Jesus told him about they the heart of his Father who made the most difficult Lover’s choice: to give his only Son to save the world.

Nick was moved from curiosity to admiration, and he was more influenced by this dinner conversation than he wanted to admit, whether it was really Jesus or not. When the waiter appeared at the end of the meal with the black leather bill holder and placed it on the table, Nick took hold of it. But Jesus stretched out his arm and put his hand over Nick’s, saying, “This is my gift.” The cuff on Jesus’ shirt sleeve pulled back and Nick saw a large puncture scar on Jesus’ wrist. Seeing that wound, Nick asked, “Will we get together for dinner again?” Jesus replied, “That’s up to you” and then gave him a note.

We might call Dinner with a Complete Stranger, an historical novel based on the true story of a nighttime meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. He also met Jesus at night, the outer darkness symbolizing his interior darkness and confusion. Just as others loved the cover of night because their deeds were evil, so Nicodemus came by night to cover his meeting with Jesus, as if it also was an evil deed. He began with curiosity about the signs Jesus performed. He ended the evening with admiration of Jesus’ teaching: about being born again, and about the heart of God making the most difficult Lover’s choice, to let his beloved Son be lifted up on a cross to save his people.  The next time we see Nicodemus he is at a meeting of the chief priests and Pharisees. He’s no longer hiding in darkness. He openly urges the council not to judge Jesus without first giving him a hearing (Jn 7:51). The nighttime visitor became a daylight defender.

Nicodemus experienced the power of Jesus’ love: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32). As St. Augustine said, “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.” We are this tremendous Lover’s choice. The smallest sacrifice by Jesus would have been enough to save each one of us. But only by crucifixion could Jesus show how evil sin really is, and how much he loves us by the suffering he endured. Greater love than this no one has.  

When Nick, the businessman, returned home he read the note Jesus had given him. It was Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”  A dinner with Jesus at Milano’s restaurant—what an invitation that would be! Fortunately, that is not the way Jesus chose to be with us.  If Jesus had a dinner per day for 100 years, eight billion people would still be waiting their turn to dine with Jesus. Instead, he gave us the Eucharist so that each of us can sup with him every day, not as perfect strangers, but as friend, as lovers.  Come, we’re invited to sup with Jesus again, today, right now.