It was a Sunday, twenty years ago, when a balding red-haired man approached me on the Philadelphia Parkway. He asked if I believed in Jesus. He told me that his name was Joe, and I said to him that mine was Dave. He wanted to share some good news.
“I don’t believe in Jesus,” I said
“I’m Jewish, too,” Joe said.
“Hmm, then how are you, Christian?” I curiously asked.
“I’m a Messianic Christian,” he said.
“A Jew who believes in the messiah. I attend a church in Center City and would like you to come sometime. We have a wonderful group of people, and the rabbi is excellent.”
“Doesn’t that go against the Jewish culture, believing in Jesus?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“I have faith, and it’s prophesied in the Old Testament.”
Here we go, I thought, giving me the bible routine. If there’s anything that I hate is a bible thumper.
“Isaiah prophesied the coming of Christ seven-hundred years before Christ was born. That’s proof enough for me,” he said.
But it wasn’t proof enough for me, I thought.
“What’s in it for you, Joe?” I asked.
“Someone shared the good news with me during a low point in my life many years ago. He said that by accepting the Word, my life would change dramatically—which it did. I quit using drugs and stopped taking out my anger on those that I love. I thought I’d return the favor by becoming a missionary.”
So, I listened and stopped debating him because I didn’t think I’d win the argument.
Joe had rubbed salt on a wound because I felt irritated all day. I didn’t like someone pushing a religious agenda—it felt invasive.
He was fortunate that I was open-minded enough to listen for a good 40 minutes without being rude or belligerent
“Thank you,” I finally said to Joe.
“I’ll think about it,” doubting very much that I would.
Twenty years had passed, and I had forgotten about Joe. I continued to live my life the same way and wasn’t religious at all. I believed that it was okay for other people to go to church, but not for me.
Sunday was my day sitting on the recliner and watching the Eagles game or whatever sporting event was on television.
I went about my busy life that included getting married, having a beautiful daughter, and adopting a son. Things seemed to be going along fine until my luck ran out.
Our babysitter’s brother molested my daughter, and we had to go through a long and painful court trial. Shortly after, our teenage son began to have severe behavior problems—he stole a car, was truant from school, and ran away on several occasions.
Our family was thrown into a state of chaos that I thought we’d never recover.
“How about if we start going to church?” my wife suggested. My wife was a Christian who periodically suggested going to church, but I always side-stepped the idea.
“Sure,” I said, thinking that we needed to try something different at that point.
We decided on a small church in Center City, one that was open to Jewish people attending.
Once I walked into the church, my wife and I were greeted by a friendly man with balding red hair and an infectious smile.
“Hello, David,” he said, to my surprise, “It’s so nice to see you again.”
It was as if he knew me as a brother.
He must have mistaken me for someone else, I thought.
I looked at him for a few seconds with a strange mix of confusion and friendship.
“On the Parkway about twenty years ago,” he reminded me.
“I talked to you about the Word.”
Still not able to recall, he moved closer.
“It’s Joe, David. I’ve been praying for you since that day we had our talk. I’ve been waiting for this moment. I’m so happy it finally arrived.”
I smiled. “Now, I remember. Joe on the Parkway. The guy I argued with about Jews believing in Jesus.”
“Yes, David. I’ve been praying for you since we met twenty years ago.”
Joe gave me a hug that seemed to make my troubles smaller and give me the hope that I could get through anything.
Mark Tulin is a former therapist who lives in Santa Barbara, California. Mark has two poetry books, Magical Yogis and Awkward Grace available on Amazon. He has an upcoming book of fiction, The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories available in August. Mark has been featured in Fiction on the Web, Amethyst Review, Visitant, Leaves of Ink, New Readers Magazine, as well as anthologies, college journals, and podcasts. You can follow Mark on Instagram @crowonthewire_poetry and his blog at Crow On The Wire.