(1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41)
One of the reasons someone goes to boot camp is to redefine something about themselves. Often, that focus is on the physique, but there are boot camps for company CEOs and employees that focus on redefining company branding or management style. As we enter our fourth week of Soul Boot Camp, I want us to think about what we might need to redefine.
In the news, when someone is described primarily with a physical aspect, it implies there is nothing more to be said about that person. For example, I saw a news report this week about some people who were recovering from CoVid-19 and the experience they had with the disease. That was all that was shared about them. You could pick up a few additional pieces of information – one was a woman, one was a man; she got it while on a cruise, he got it while singing in his choir; I’m lousy at guessing ages but I think they were both in their thirties (I’m not sure); I don’t even think the report mentioned where they lived. Apparently, all we really needed to know was that they were recovering from the virus.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience in a conversation. Someone is described as beautiful, as opposed to intelligent or insightful; or by a physical trait like blindness or skin color as opposed to hardworking or talented. You may have even heard someone described as a “C” student as if that tells you all you need to know about them.
The problem with this attitude is that it is neither scriptural true nor sociologically accurate. Any high school reunion confirms the fact that the inconspicuous “C” student often blossoms into the civic leader, the backbone of the community. And people with physical limitations are continually accomplishing as much as others, if not more, when they are given the chance.
The Bible over and over again tells how God can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. This is what so astonished the people of Jesus’ day. Here was an ordinary carpenter, a typical resident from a side street in Nazareth. He was not a scholar or a rabbi, just a semi-skilled craftsman making his living with his hands. How could he be the son of God? As Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:26 that the first Christians counted “not many … (who) were wise according to worldly standards, not many (who) were powerful, not many (who) were of noble birth.”
But look how God used these average people to do wondrous and mighty things. In today’s readings, we see men of miraculous power, king makers and sight givers, literally changing the destiny of two ordinary men. Samuel goes to Bethlehem to anoint a king, one who doesn’t seem to have much going for him except pretty eyes – that’s the literal translation of a portion of verse 12. Samuel goes to Bethlehem on God’s orders, the story tells us, and the people of Bethlehem are terrified when the man of power comes among them. Rejecting Jesse’s older, stronger sons, Samuel anoints a shepherd boy with pretty eyes as the one who will be their king. It is not clear how that is to be, as it will be several chapters before David is anointed before the people, but this is the story we have; as though David himself is an afterthought in the illustration of the power of God.
Yet, this is often the case throughout the Bible as God takes ordinary people and, through His power, accomplishes extraordinary things. Ordinary people like Moses, who couldn’t talk before people; ordinary people like Isaac, who was an honest man, a good man, but boasted nothing special about himself; ordinary people like the twelve disciples, none of them rich, or famous, or studied – just twelve common men with uncommon faith.
If you read the Bible with an eye toward whom God chooses, you will see over and over again that God has let the gospel hang by a thread, committing the future to insignificant people, unnamed and unknown in many cases, but ordinary, not outlandish, in their talents. Look at the young David, a scrawny adolescent chosen to replace the handsome and charismatic Saul. But David’s obedience to God’s word, his faith in God’s presence in his life, and his humility before God when he failed, established him as Israel’s greatest ruler.
The blind man also begins as an illustration in a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. The disciples ask Jesus about the effects of sin across generations. Jesus responds that sin had nothing to do with the man’s blindness but this happened “that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Look at the resurrection account in Luke 24:18; an event that we celebrate in only a few short weeks. Here is the most incredible event in all of history – the rejected, crucified Jesus is, by the power of God, raised from the dead, transformed, redeemed, glorified, given a new body of glory. And what happens? According to Luke, His first appearance is to a woman – someone definitely ordinary in the thinking of that culture. And one of His first appearances outside Jerusalem is to a person, unnamed and unknown, and to a man named Cleopas, who after his witness to the remaining disciples is never heard from again.
Psychologist Eugene Kennedy was known for talking about “the wonder of the ordinary.” He observed that “when persons suffer mental illness, they lose something of their individuality, they exhibit common kinds of behavior that we call ‘symptoms.’ Because of the similarity of their symptoms, people can be classified as having the same kind of illness.” But that is not the way with ordinary people. Healthy people cannot be put into categories for a startlingly simple reason. They are all different from one another. Nobody exhibits the same, predictable, patterned responses. In other words, the wonder of the ordinary is that we are all extraordinary.
Who defines normal, respectable, well, or whole today? How often do we fail to see in life the wonder and mystery that is there because we do not appreciate the ordinary. How often do we reject the good news because its music is not as obvious as a marching band. Some people seem to expect that God’s presence in the world should be a march orchestrated by John Philip Sousa. They think that God’s presence should be like the Statue of Liberty, its torch lighting the darkness for miles around. Or else God simply does not exist.
Do you ever feel defined by one label or characteristic? The blind man is defined as a sinner in his very being, because he is blind. Whether he contests this identity or not, we do not know. It seems as though the category of blindness was intractable in that time and place, attached to a set of assumptions that unquestionably defined a human being, like disability, race, or gender in our time. Perhaps, like so many of our sisters and brothers with darker skin, this blind man had heard the negatives for so long he began to believe them. Once Jesus has empowered him to transcend that label, who is he? At the very least he is a man who has no fear of standing up to the Pharisees and easily pointing out the giant holes found in an argument
We can ask the same of ourselves. When we undergo an extreme transformation, we shed old definitions of ourselves – or, perhaps, redefine them (after all, what is ordinary in God’s sight?) Then we claim a new identity, defined by the power of God working in us. Do not miss the wonder because of the average. Do not let the miraculous skip you by because of the common. Subtlety and restraint are signs of good taste, and God has good taste. For God has put wonder in the ordinary.