But we're also a little bit grumpy this morning. Maybe it's the rain. Maybe it's the fact that not everybody got a top bunk last night. Or maybe it's all those people standing outside the hostel, waiting for Jesus to come out. We're getting all prickly again because, come on, this was supposed to be OUR road trip with Jesus. If they wanted to come along, they should've been there to begin with. Right?
"Wrong," Jesus says from the doorway.
Yikes, the man has hearing like a bat. It's like he reads our minds, too. Oh, wait ... he probably does.
"Before we leave today, I think we need to talk about this," he says. "I have bagels and juice for everyone. Let's fill our plates and then I'll tell you a story."
One thing you gotta love about travelling with Jesus: we always get fed.
So we each grab a couple of bagels and some cream cheese and some juice. What combination will you be having? And we settle into our circle with Jesus sitting cross-legged with us, in front of the fireplace. As soon as we stop wigglng and scooting and whispering about what kind of cream cheese we chose, Jesus starts his story.
"A teacher assigned a class project, something creative and challenging, something worth half everyone's history grade. And as usual, about one fourth of the class got to work on it right away, doing all their assigned tasks, some of them even more than was expected."
Jesus pauses so we can think about whether that's us. Some of us grin, all smug. Others gulp.
"That went on for a week. With only two weeks left the teacher saw that the project wasn't going to get done with only seven people doing the work, so she said to the remaining 21 people, "You guys need to get on board." So about ten more people got going on their tasks, and even though a third of the work was already done, they were contributing."
Jesus waits again. Several of us are now smiling. Still, some people are kind of looking at their fingernails, wishing this story would be over because it's too close to home.
"Finally," Jesus says, "with only one week left to go and the project just about done, the teacher said to the 11 who just hadn't done a whole lot, if anything, and she said, 'You still have a chance to join in. We need you for the finishing touches.' So those last 11 people decided to get to work and they hated to admit it but they were having a good time. They felt as much pride in the final product as everyone else."
At last we all feel relieved. But the story isn't over.
"Then it came time to give the grades. This was just a great process and the project had turned out so amazingly well, she gave each of the original 7 an A+. Theyweren't surprised. They deserved it, right?"
We all nodded.
"The teacher handed out the grades to the next ten who joined in when the project was already a week under way. They, of course, weren't expecting the same grade as the original seven, but maybe it would be at least an A." Jesus makes a surprised face. "But, hey, they each got an A+ too."
"But --" one of us says. We all look at her and she bites her lip.
"Then came the last 11," Jesus says. "They were kind of excited. They might actually pass, even though they only worked for the last week. But, guess what? The teacher gave each of them an A+ too."
"But that's not fair!" someone says. We all mutter agreement. "They shouldn't get the same grade as the people that did most of the work!"
"It sure seems that way, doesn't it?" Jesus says. "But it's the same thing with those people who are outside waiting for me. Even though they didn't start to believe in me until they got sick or realized I could heal things they'd been suffering with all their lives, I still love them, just as much as I love you who are still so young and are going to follow me all your lives." He shrugged. "You all get the things God promises ... are you listening?"
We are. Several of us take notes.
"These are the things God promises because he loves us:
* the ability to see who we were made to be
* the ability to see who he is
We all sit with that for a minute, our bagels forgotten on our plates.
"Now, my mini-women," Jesus says. "Do you hear the word 'fair' in that list?"
We have to admit we don't.
"That's because God doesn't promise 'fair' the way you think of fair. Listen carefully."
We lean in.
"Bad things happen to good people who love and serve God.
"People who don't seem to believe in God at all have good things happen to them.
"People who do whatever they want all their lives can accept me on their deathbed and still go to be with God in heaven.
"And sometimes because you follow me and do all that I ask and live a godly life, other people -- popular people, powerful people -- put you down like you're a freak."
Jesus shakes his head. "None of that seems fair to you, does it?"
"That's beecause you don't get to see God's Big Picture. You have no idea how that all fits together. You can only do what YOU are asked to do, and not worry about what's 'fair' in God's kingdom."
We're all looking at the floor by now, but Jesus says, "There will be none of that! No shame and guilt! Just learn."
He leaves us to our bagels and juice. Some of us write in our Talking To God Journals as we think and pray. Others just nibble and ponder. Soon we're all talking, commenting on --
* The things in our own lives that don't seem fair. We get those all out.
* What happens inside us when we let go of what's fair and ask God to show us the next right thing to do
One thing we know for sure: things are going to be different now.