Meditation by Alan Maker – 26 July 2012 @ Volmoed
Whatever happened to the hero?
According to the dictionary a hero is a person distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, and fortitude. Heroes do not fit any mould. They come from all walks of life and they fill us with awe and wonder.
I have always had heroes – mostly on the playing fields – but I have to admit there have been some outside of that, even in politics.
Heroes are not perfect, they are inspirational, driving those who admire them to achieve greater personal heights. Many of us have Nelson Mandela as a hero. He is not perfect even in the most liberal definition of perfection, but he is an inspiration – not to be a politician but to be a human who can overcome adversity without bearing malice or seeking retribution.
My cricketing hero was Roy McLean. He brought every game alve. When he walked into bat, capless – never a helmet, they are for businessmen who have to be at work tomorrow, - a hero hits the ball with his bat not his head!. He looked up into the blue Durban sky to get his eyes accustomed to the light, so did every school boy even though they did not come out of any pavilion.
Watching him make a duck was more exciting than seeing most cricketers score a hundred. He was electric in the field, swooping on the ball, picking it up and throwing it back to the wicket keeper’s glove in one movement.
He was not perfect, he played some stupid and irresponsible shots. He drank gin and coke whilst the others slurped their juice. We used to go to his shop in Hooper Lane and buy something of little value, just to be served by Roy McLean. He treated us always with grace and kindness. He was a hero.
Jesus of Nazareth has always been a hero figure to me. I have no patience with the soppy, dreary picture of him we see in so many paintings and read of in so many poems, or sing of in wimpy hymns.
He was a carpenter, the son of a carpenter, in a day when there were no electric saws and planes and lathes. Everything had to be done by hand. He must have been physically strong. He could walk 50 kilometres in the day and still have the strength to teach and show compassion. When the disciples felt he was tired and needed some space, they shooed the children away, but he was angry – he wanted to bless them. He had the strength of character to be able to call strong men away from their work to follow him. The corruption of the money-changers made him so angry, he physically upturned their tables and threw them out, the death of his friend, Lazarus, caused him to weep, his impending death made him so anxious that his perspiration stood out on his brow like great drops of blood.
He was comfortable in the company of fisherfolk, tax collectors, rich Pharisees, Roman centurions, and even prostitutes – one Anglican commentator wrote he thought Jesus met only with ex-prostitutes, but they only became ex- after being with him. On the Cross he was not afraid to call out loud what we have all felt inside, My God, why have you forsaken me! And then the faith to commend himself to that God.
What I have always found most extraordinary was the loyalty and faithfulness of those first disciples – of the 11, 10 died horrific deaths, only John survived into old age – and not one of them let him down, recanted. They had spent three years with him and could find no fault.
If it were I Jesus was asking as he did Peter at Caesarea Philippi, “Who do you say I am?” My answer would have to be “You are the extraordinary man, not the shadowy God-man, the extraordinary man who shows to all humanity what God is like and what it means to be human.
If God is like Jesus we do not believe in a far off First Cause, or Unmoved Mover, but and amazing Being who loves, whose mind can be changed, who can be angry and compassionate, who weeps as Jeremiah tells us at the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem just as Jesus did over that same city. Jesus demonstrates a God whose power does not lie in brute strength, but in weakness.
Look what God does!
God buries God’s message in frail humanity, God often chooses the younger sibling over the elder, God selects an obscure group of people to be the bearer of God’s message of harmony to all humanity; The Cross, not any military or regal symbol, stands at the centre of our faith.
That God created the universe out of love, and placed in women and men something of the divine so that each one is of supreme value no matter his or her outer appearances. Each one of us is God’s work of art, and that does not depend on how we feel when we wake up in the morning, or how the boss, the client, the civil servant treats us during the day.
It is a matter of God’s grace that always and everywhere we are God’s works of art. In the words of a song from ‘Hairspray’, we need to love ourselves from the inside out. That means it is alright to fail. We all do in some way or another, and frequently – none of us is perfect, but we can be given a second chance, we can be forgiven, we can start again.
That’s the God we see in Jesus. In him we can discover true humanity. In a money-grubbing, selfish and intolerant world, he insists real humanity consists not in worship, prayer and hymn-singing, they play their part, but only as they lead us to care for the little people of the world, the widows and orphans, those without civil rights, those who cannot afford medical care or housing, those who are shunned by others who consider themselves morally superior.
The giant prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures all make it clear there is a deep moral content to our faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted that Christianity did not add anything to being human, it meant being human. He called Jesus “the man for others”, and that’s what it means to be human – “to be for others”.
That is one of the extraordinary aspects of Jesus.
He really did see and treat people as God’s works of art – Simon saw a woman of questionable morality pour perfume on Jesus, but he saw someone who had received forgiveness; lepers were labeled unclean, but Jesus, touching them, healed them; no less unclean were the Roman occupying soldiers, but Jesus said of one them, he had found no such faith in all Israel. Women and children were not regarded as fully human, but he brought women into his closest circle and treated children gently and kindly.
Jesus is a full-bodied hero. We are not called to copy or imitate him, but to follow him. The Christian life is an heroic one, it is not a judgmental, moralistic one constantly on the look out for wrongdoing to condemn, a pasty, milksop existence empty of fun and laughter. We are called to be heroes. How many of them I have met during my ministry, unsung to be sure, but heroes nevertheless! – they have faced tragedy with pain and courage; they have risen early in the morning to make soup, they have traveled miles to smuggle books and food to Zimbabwe; they have spent hours visiting children in hospital, they have endured hours of committee meetings to ensure that the old, the poor, those with Aids, and the children are adequately cared for; they have diligently packed food in a cold damp basement, they have taken hampers to the worst parts of town; they have given up part of their Christmas Day to serve those no-one wants, they have protested against injustice and inhumanity when it was fashionable to remain silent, they have spent hours in laboratories trying to find cures for the diseases ravaging the human body; they have blown the whistle when they have seen bullying, injustice and corruption at work, they have done much unseen and unheralded and unrecognized to help someone else.
They have laughed and cried, told jokes, thrown parties, and even been known to enjoy some wine and whisky, they and too many others to mention, are heroes even though they never saw themselves as such, in fact, they saw others, as heroes.
Christian heroism is based on a commitment to Jesus flowing from dedicated service to God’s extraordinary kingdom, in which the first is last, the servant is master, and a cup of cold water is given in love, is as valuable as the most spectacular gesture.