“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25
A couple of years ago, Andrew Forsthoefel walked across America, from Philadelphia to California via New Orleans, just walking and talking to the people he met along the way. I heard his story through a podcast, played in my car as I drove down the A38, sealed away from the world around me by 979kg of automobile travelling at 70mph. Somewhere along the road I teared up and thought of Jesus.
There’s so much we don’t know about Jesus. Oh, sure, we’ve got the Bible, we’ve got the theology and the creeds and the historical context, but we miss out on the small stuff, the everyday interactions he had with his community. Who did he live next door to? Did he talk shop with local carpenters? Which of his sisters did he get on with best? Forget The Da Vinci Code, these are the real lost stories in the life of Jesus.
I said this was small stuff, but as John seemed to recognise, when it comes to Jesus even the smaller stories could produce a library full of books. Those words that close John’s gospel sound almost rueful: All those stories I had to leave out, and that’s just the stuff I know about…
Every day, Jesus would have had conversations – about bereavement and poverty and oppression, about job frustrations and money worries. He’d’ve spoken to old friends, chatted with family, bought food and clothes… And I can’t help but wonder what he talked about. The weather? Politics? Religion? How many life changing experiences failed to make the gospels? How many encounters, like the woman at the well or Zaccheus, didn’t get recorded because the writers forgot or ran out of room or swore to keep conversations private?
Take the miracles, for instance. We read of crowds coming to Jesus to be healed, and while we only hear a handful of these stories, each one of them is an encounter with God, a moment of healing and restoration and the laws of the universe suddenly suspended because of compassion. John calls them ‘signs’ because they’re so important, but we don’t hear about all of them! God interacts with the world in amazing ways, yet sometimes he does that in secret.
And then there are the moments of solitude between Jesus and his Father, private personal conversations in gardens and up mountains and in the wilderness. We’d love to know what was said, to eavesdrop on those prayers, but these moments are lost to us. And it’s probably right that this is the case – we’re allowed to have a relationship with God without people listening in all the time, and there’s a reason we don’t feel the need to podcast our quiet times.
The Bible contains all it needs to contain, but it’s fascinating to consider what John and the others missed out. It makes you wish they had Twitter.
Maybe there’s a lesson here. On his journey across America, Andrew Forsthoefel meets an elderly woman who grew up under segregation. Here’s someone who was taught to be a second class citizen because of the colour of her skin, and yet, during her reminiscences, before she sings Amazing Grace, she reveals that she decided to treat others with love, not hate, because that’s what Jesus taught. It’s an incredibly moving moment, and yet that testimony to the Holy Spirit working in her life would have remained relatively unspoken if not for a young man recording the stories of those he met along the road.
And so the end of John’s gospel invites us to participate in these hidden stories of Jesus; the untold encounters he spoke of didn’t just stop, they continued onward, down throughout history. The hidden stories of Jesus ate our stories, our testimonies, our day-to-day prayers and out-working of faith. Sure, we’re not part of a gospel.
But it’s all part of the same Good News.