Exaggerated stuff in Christianity

“Yes, we are Christians,” an elderly man said on the Greek island of Milos after giving directions to my wife Ellen and me. “But we don’t believe the exaggerated stuff.”

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Next to this church on the volcanic island of Milos we asked directions from George and Helen. Within walking distance are some of the oldest Christian catacombs, and the site where the Venus de Milo statue was found.

That unexpected comment came after I noticed small silver crosses he and his wife each wore. “You are Christians!” I said. Friendly conversation followed, and we learned their names were George and Helen. I pressed for an example of “exaggerated stuff” in Christianity.

“We like Jesus,” George allowed, “but we don’t believe in the resurrection.” My biblical imagination went on full alert: this was the same response certain Greeks gave the Apostle Paul almost two millennia ago! When Paul mentioned the resurrection at Athens, “some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” (Acts 17:32).

Helen and George wanted to hear more, and invited us for coffee in their humble home. There we explained that we were Christians visiting sites in Greece related to Paul and the early church. George told how he had traveled the world in the merchant marine. Learning that I am a minister, he posed a question: How could God punish his Son for sins of humanity? What kind of father would do that?

Don’t think of it so much as God punishing his Son, I said. Think of Jesus as God-with-us. God was fully present in Jesus, taking on the brokenness of the world. The cross shows how much God loves, not how angry God is. Resurrection shows that God has chosen to overcome evil with forgiveness and love.

George and Helen seemed drawn to this image of God, and went on to share concerns about their own health and family. Ellen and I offered to pray with them, and both were in tears when prayer ended. “Jesus is present here,” I said. “This is the power of the resurrection.”

George excused himself to the next room to regain composure. Helen went to the kitchen and retrieved two small magnetic refrigerator icons—not of monetary value, but beautiful. “Take these,” she said with a smile. We thanked them for their kindness, and I left my business card.

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Three months later Christmas greetings arrived from Greece—addressed to “Father Nelson.” George and Helen wrote, “We wish and hope you have a mery-mery Christmas. . . Pray Lord for us as you once did in our little house in Milos!”

A letter we wrote after my heart surgery in January prompted a three-page epistle in return. “I can feel it was a serious long vicissitude,” George wrote of my operation, “and obviously very painful for your intimates! . . . For this we’ll pray Saint Judas the Thadeus! He was a step brother of Jesus.”

George was referring to Jude, one of the Twelve also known as Thaddeus. A website says Jude is “patron of desperate situations, forgotten causes, hospitals, impossible causes, and lost causes.”

Not sure I like being placed in such dire categories. But George promised to send me an icon of Saint Jude, and I will receive it with gratitude. “We promise to tell him always about you and pray,” George wrote. “He will hear our words and God will give you health and strength to continue.” Ellen and I will continue to write, and will pray that George and Helen get beyond Saint Jude to know the presence of the risen Christ in their daily lives.

© 2016  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

Join me and others who love the Bible for a Peace Pilgrim tour of Jordan and Palestine in September 2016. See https://tourmagination.com/tours/by-date/2016-tours/498-jordan-palestine-israel-a-journey-of-hope

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