What if Jesus stuttered? This idea came up in the middle of a conversation I was having the other day and has really messed with the comfortable picture of Jesus I have cultivated over the years from Sunday school lessons, sermons, and numerous movies on the life of Jesus.
In church, no one ever reads Scripture out loud with a stutter or a stammer. Sure people miss a word here or there, but it’s never intentional. When I read the words of Jesus I feel like I need to deepen my voice to sound holy and profound. Jesus was a great teacher and orator. More than that, he was the Son of God. He couldn’t have had a speech impediment!
My dad has a speech impediment. As a child, kids teased him so badly because of his stuttering that he barely spoke. They said he was dumb and slow. For years he lived with that baggage. He carried around the painful comments and the stares that people gave him when he struggled to get his words out. He became an artist. He learned to speak without words.
One night my Mom and Dad were set to share at a church event about their work as missionaries. My mom always did the speaking, but that night for some reason at the last second she couldn’t do it. There was only one other option.
A room filled with people sat staring at my father as he climbed up to the podium. The microphone waited cold and metallic, ready to project his shame. There was silence. Painful silence. As if all the silence from all the years was joined together to form an impenetrable wall that only my father could see.
Dad cleared his throat and he began immediately to stutter. He wrestled with the words like Jacob wrestling with God. He struggled to put together sentences, but he refused to give in. He refused to be bound by a world in which eloquence of speech is required for one’s voice to be heard.
The people in that audience were given an unexpected gift that night far more beautiful than they could have imagined. They were given the gift of bravery and boldness. They witnessed raw human authenticity and humility, an unmasking in our world so full of extravagant masks.
I wonder if that night, seated in the bowels of a church, an unsuspecting crowd of people heard for the first time the very voice of Jesus. Imperfect, faltering and slow. As I begin to listen with new ears I can hear Jesus speaking, and this time it is the sweet sound of stuttering.