I can imagine that if Jesus went to the pubs today, he wouldn’t go there on Friday or Saturday nights, when they’re loud and crowded with people having a few rounds with their buddies and relaxing after a long week of work or classes. No, Jesus would go to the pubs on Sunday nights or Monday nights or Tuesday nights, when they’re deathly quiet and the real drinkers are there, propped up on the bar or hidden in far corners, alone, and nursing pint after pint.
Pubs are dreary places on “off nights”. As an atheist, I used to work in bars, and no-one wanted to take the “off-night” shifts. A pall hangs over the place, no matter how loud or lively the music. It echoes around the empty space and back at you as you keep yourself busy wiping tables and stocking the fridge, praying for the front door to swing open and a massive crowd to sweep in. That prayer was never answered.
I can imagine Jesus going up the bar on a Monday night and ordering a pint. He’d slide onto a stool and nod amicably to someone sitting a few seats away. He’d take a few deep sips of beer and then strike up a conversation with the stranger. They’d chit-chat a bit, maybe about the weather or the latest ball game, finding a common touchstone in a favorite team or mutual frustration with a coach, forging a tenuous connection.
A few sips later, the chit-chat would turn work-related or marriage-related, and without realizing what was happening, the stranger would start to unload. He’d be a little drunk and not quite realize what was drawing him to the man with the kind eyes, but he’d begin to reveal details of his problems he hadn’t told anyone before. They would come out in a rush and before he knew it, he’d be sobbing into his arms. Jesus would reach over and lay a gentle hand on his shoulder, signalling to the bartender that everything was OK and just to give them a moment. The man’s sobs would quieten and he’d feel a load lifting from him. The warm touch of Jesus’ hand was the most comforting sensation he had every felt in his life.
The stranger would lift his head and give it a brief shake. He’d blow his nose and apologize, saying he didn’t know what had come over him. He’d take a deep breath, reach for his beer, and then push it away, saying, “I’ve had enough of that for tonight”, and he’d call for his tab.
Jesus would settle back in his seat and down the last of his pint. He’d call for his tab, too, but the stranger would insist on paying for Jesus’ drink, and Jesus would let him.
As the stranger slides into his jacket, he would stare furtively at Jesus’ back, wondering what it was about this guy that made him feel as if he’d known him all his life. Jesus would turn and wish the stranger a good night and a good walk home. The stranger would nod and smile and walk steadily through the pub and out the door, his head a little higher and his step a little lighter than when he came in.
Jesus would leave a few minutes later, nodding and smiling good night to the bartender and gracing her with the largest single tip she’d ever received. She would nod and smile in return, calling out “Thank you!” and “Good night!”, and wishing Jesus wouldn’t go. There was something about his presence in the pub that made it feel less cold and empty.