Today is Ash Wednesday, thus marking the beginning of Lent in Catholicism and many other Christian denominations. The season is meant to prepare its religious observers for Easter and to recollect the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert enduring the temptations of Satan. For me, it has also prompted a reflection on the question, “What if Jesus went to Yale?”
I think of Jesus often and when people ask me who my best friend is, I tell them it’s Jesus. I think that if He went to school here and our paths crossed that we would have a great time and be pals. But I also think that the question of what Jesus’ Yale experience would be like, if fully considered, contains many implications about how we choose our priorities.
On the surface, the question reminds me of the scene in “Talladega Nights” when Ricky Bobby, his children and Cal Naughton Jr. banter about how they picture Jesus. I, for one, picture Jesus getting an A in every class and being the friendliest person at Yale. I could imagine Him walking into a dining hall one day and joining a seemingly lonely student for lunch. I think that as He spoke, a large crowd would build around Him to listen to His thoughts and teachings, greatly astonished by His wisdom. Every day would be a spectacle and Jesus would be a large campus presence.
Additionally, it is fun to think of how Jesus’ powers could come in handy to take care of Yale’s minor inconveniences. Perhaps, for example, He could multiply the food in Commons when they invariably run out an hour before lunch ends, or walk on the water of the massive puddles that always form at the intersection of Elm and High when it rains. There is no biblical evidence of Jesus using His powers in such a way, but it’s still a fun thought experiment.
More substantively, I don’t think Jesus would be particularly involved in the campus culture. It seems obvious to say that He wouldn’t put much stock in Yale’s social pressures and would instead probably spend most of His time volunteering in New Haven and saying prayers. This approach is not one that most Yale students, including myself, can really relate to. But despite our different schedules, it is a cop-out to dismiss the lessons behind what Jesus would do as irrelevant.
Pope Francis has spoken previously of the Catholic Church as a field hospital after battle. He said the Church needs to be concerned with healing people’s wounds and being close to them, not getting caught up in “small-minded rules.” There are so many people at Yale in need of that healing, most egregiously proven by the results of the survey by the Association of American Universities that found that sexual assault on campus is rampant. There are so many people who are broken.
Beyond being present for His friends, I don’t know how Jesus would deal with these problems if he were a student here at Yale. But I do think His previously recorded example provides a framework for the right approach to our time on campus. Jesus talked about walking with “the light of life,” about washing the inside of the cup instead of worrying about the appearance on the outside.
Yale is full of ambitious people, but ambition is not an end in and of itself. Elvis likened it to a V-8 engine, and I think Jesus would apply that metaphor to say we should use that engine to move in a positive direction and to be blessings in the lives of others. I think He’d want us to remember that goodness, not success, should be our goal.
I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of Jesus, and hope I have not offended any Christians, but I know that Yale is a place where we spend a lot of time treading water rather than swimming. I hope this Lent, we will pause to consider the focus of our Yale experiences, and upon reflection, that we’ll all try to be a little more like Jesus.
Michael Herbert is a senior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at email@example.com.