The Autowala’s Sermon

Not the guy I rode with. Photography by Erin Glosson.
Not the guy I rode with. Photo credit: Erin Glosson

Last Sunday on the way to church I got into a conversation with my autorickshaw driver. After asking the usuals (“Where are your from?” “What do you do?” “Are you married?” “Are you really not married?” “When will you get married?” — you know), he said:

“Are there Muslims in America?”

“Yeah, there are many Muslims in America.”

“You’re a Muslim?”

“Nope.”

“You’re a Christian?”

“Sure. I’m a Christian.”

And then he got this very sober, far-off look in his eyes and I didn’t fully understand his Urdu, but I knew he said the name of Jesus.

“Jesus, the Messiah. That’s right,” I said. “Um. Good.”

“He is good,” he said. “Jesus… he can do anything.”

“That’s true.”

And then, in English, he said “He’s our Father.”

I smiled. “He’s our Father.”

Tears filled his eyes and he brushed them away. Then he changed the subject to the passing monuments and the moment was gone.

Now, let me paint you a little fuller a picture. Five minutes before this, this guy had unleashed a string of curses at a bus who changed lanes into us (not a traffic incident in India). And when he dropped me off at the church, he nearly ran over a mother and daughter who were standing in the street. Not on accident. This guy? He was not a softy.

In 1996, Charles Templeton, former mass evangelist and preaching buddy of Billy Graham, published the book Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. In an interview some years later journalist Lee Strobel asked him what he thought of Jesus.

As Strobel recounts, Templeton’s “body language softened,” and his voice became “melancholy and reflective.” The scene that followed has always stuck with me:

“Abruptly, Templeton cut short his thoughts. There was a brief pause, almost as if he was uncertain whether he should continue. ‘Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . . ‘ He stopped, then started again. ‘In my view,’ he declared, ‘he is the most important human being who ever existed.’ That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. ‘And if I may put it this way,’ he said in a voice that began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!’ With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept.” (From The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity by Lee Strobel)

What is that? What is it about Jesus that makes people melt? And not just anyone, but the most anesthetized against it: the virulent Muslim cabbie, the hardened, post-religious agnostic, the Roman centurion, the prostitute . . .

And why do we forget it?

 
Had any unlikely encounters with faith? Do you feel like sometimes non-believers “get it” a little more than believers do?

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