One night after his evening Bible reading and prayer, he drifted off to sleep in an old chair near his workbench. During the prayer, the Lord came to him and said: "Jesse, I'm coming to see you tomorrow. You've been such a loyal friend over the years, and I wanted to tell you thank you for all that you have done."
When he awakened, Jesse immediately began to make his house and little leather shop ready for a visit from the Master. Rising well before dawn, he worked hard to clean his floors. He put some stew on to slow cook for a delicious warm dinner with the master on a cold and rainy day. He baked two fresh loaves of bread and the smell of it filled his tiny place. He laid out his last good leather to make the Lord some new sandals. He washed his sheets and found the warm comforter his beloved Violet had made them so long ago. By sunrise, he was ready for the Lord to come!
The weather was awful. The cold wind howled, the rain poured, the old dirt roads were a rutted mess. It was not long before an old friend coming in from the country stopped to warm up, share a couple of pieces of warm bread, get a cup of hot coffee, and dry out his clothes before finishing his journey to town.
Soon, his friend was gone. Jesse was happy to see his friend and to share his conversation, but even before he could clean up the muddy boot prints another knock came on the door. Three kids from the neighborhood had smelled his bread. "Could we have a piece, Uncle Jesse? Could we have a piece, please?" Of course they could. He gave them some every morning. But this morning, with the cold and wet, he noticed their muddy feet had no shoes and they shivered from the cold.
He cleaned their dirty feet the best he could. They sat by his fire and ate the uneaten half loaf of bread. They needed shoes. Winter was coming on and here they were running around in such awful weather without shoes. So he carefully cut them soft leather and stitched them together some moccasins soft and warm to help them through the winter. Yes, they were made out of the fine soft leather leaving him very little leather when he finished, and most of that was too stiff for shoes or sandals.
After the three children were warmed, fed, and fitted with their new moccasins, they were happily on their way. The shop was a mess with scraps of leather and bread crumbs. The house, shop, and fireside were tracked up with mud. One of the two loaves was eaten. But, he still had the stew simmering over the fire and the bed was still freshly made and he still had one loaf of uneaten bread.
But after a few minutes rest and before he could clean the floors, a knock came at the door. It was a young mother with her child. "Please sir, just let me rest here and warm up a bit. We won't be a bother. We're on our way to the city to look for a job. We, the baby and me, we've lost my Bobby to the war and I've got to find a way to help us get by. I'm thinking I might find one in the city"
Jesse welcomed them in. The young lady's clothes were soaked as were the baby's blankets. Jesse was glad he had saved some of violet's things. "Here," Jesse told her, "look in this old chest and see if you can find anything to fit. And there are clean blankets on the shelf above the bed. Use them for the baby. When you are dry and changed, you can bring me your clothes and we will wash the mud out of them and dry them by the fire. And here, here is some warm goat's milk for the baby!"
And that's what she did. But suddenly clean and warm, Jesse noticed she was quite gaunt. "Hungry?" he asked without frills or small talk.
"Oh yes!" she said, "and the smell of the bread and stew are heavenly. But I hate to impose. You've been so nice. But it's been days since I've had a good meal."
"Well here, let's fix that!" Jesse said as he ladled her out a big hot bowl of stew and tore off a big chunk of fresh bread."
"O please kind sir, please join me, and please, before I eat, can you thank God for his kindness in leading me to this place?"
Jesse obliged. And as they ate, and the mood lightened, and the mom and her baby drifted off to sleep on the old bed with full tummies in a warm room full of kindness and grace, Jesse suddenly realized he had a problem. "The Lord said he was coming today," Jesse thought to himself, "What will I do? Mud is all over the floor. The bread and stew are gone. The bed is filled with the mother and child. The leather for his sandals is now on the feet of the children from up the street. I have no leather, I have no bed, I have no food for the Master when he comes! O my, what will I do?"
Sadly, yet somehow full of deep and abiding joy, Jesse slumped into the old chair as the day's light began to fade. "It will be just a short nap," he told himself, "then I can figure out what to do to welcome the Lord when he comes."
And as Jesse drifted off to sleep, the Lord came to him again in a dream and said, "Jesse, I came to your house today!"
"When, Lord?" Jesse questioned, "when were you here? I didn't see you. I'm so sorry, Master, but the leather, the bread, and the stew... well, they're all gone. And the place is a mess, but please know, I made it ready for you. And the bed, well, it's full with a mom and her child sleeping off their hard journey. But Lord, you can have my old chair... here, you take my chair!"
"Oh Jesse, I don't need your chair. And yes, I have been here today. Didn't you see me? I was here and you welcomed me as an old friend as we shared laughter and a warm cup of coffee on this cold morning. And I was here when I came as three little children tracking mud all over your place and filling it with laughter and joy with the warmth of your place and the goodness of your bread. And I am still here, with a full baby and a tired mom wearing Violet's clean clothes. I'm now snuggled up to my baby who is full and warm and safe at my side, because of you!
"Yes, Jesse, I have been here three times today, and each time you welcomed me like a beloved friend, a needy child, and a tired and heartbroken traveler. For what you have done to each of these you have blessed today, you've done to me. And now, Jesse, here is the real point of my visit. When you wake from this dream, you will no longer be in your little house in your old chair by the fire, but you will awaken in my presence to share in my grace and see your Violet and hear the Father's words: 'Well done, good and faithful servant. Come now and enter your Master's joy!"
Long ago, God gave us 10 Commandments to shape our lives and build our character (Exodus 20:3-17):
- Do not have any other gods before me.
- Do not worship any image you created as god.
- Do not use the LORD's name in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
- Honor your father and mother.
- Do not murder.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Do not steal.
- Do not lie about your neighbor.
- Do not covet anything your neighbor has.
Too often, I fear, we look at the 10 Commandments and see them as a list of rules. Instead, they are reminders of our Father's character and how we can make our lives fit places for him to live. They help us reflect our Father's righteous character and gracious compassion. And to help us even more, Jesus took these ten commandments and clarified them to two life principles that are rooted in love (Matthew 22:37-40):
- Love the LORD my God with all that I am.
- Love my neighbor as I love myself.
And if we have learned the story of Jesse, we realize just how blessed we are to have God move in to our world and show up on our doorstep and ask us to join him in his story of grace. And we also realize that more than a set of commands, we are being called to live a life of love that reflects the Father we call God, the Savior we call Jesus, and the Abiding Presence we call the Holy Spirit.
The story of Jesse is an old story that has been told many ways by many different story tellers with many different details. This is my version of the story and I cannot tell you now how close or how different it is from other versions. But the theme of them all is always the same: the LORD visits us in the gift of unknown strangers that we welcome in to hearts and lives with grace and kindness. We are reminded in Scripture:
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:7 NIV).