“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” John 6: 42
Oh my, oh my, oh my!
I know this story all too well. I have a “little sister.” She was born almost exactly two years after me. In my mind, my little sister was always just a little bit behind me. She was born later. She was younger and smaller. She didn’t excel academically as I had. She didn’t get elected to school and club offices as I had. And, as a young adult, I didn’t stray nearly as far as she did from culturally approved behaviors.
This was the narrative I had crafted for my little sister. This was the stereotype I had settled on. This was the lens through which I interpreted my sister’s life, her choices and her behaviors. In my mind, she would always be my little sister, the one who lagged just a little behind me in every way.
“How could Jesus be marked with the heavenly seal,” his detractors seem to ask, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” Is not this that little boy we saw growing up who was wrestling in the mud with other boys, teasing the sheep, and playing adolescent pranks on his neighbors? Is not this that average little boy who grew up just down the street from us?
Isn’t it interesting how we create a narrative and a stereotype around people and then can only see them through that particular lens? I did that with my sister. Unfortunately, for many years my story of her didn’t change and grow, but she did. I was well into my thirties before the scales fell from eyes. One day I looked at her and realized, “I have a really amazing little sister! I can’t believe how strong, how courageous and how faithful she is.”
I had thought of myself as being the more ambitious of the two and then one day I realized that while I was following the predictable path of school and work she was out changing the world. By the time I was in my second church she had spent six years as a missionary in El Salvador, raised three children on foreign soil, survived a civil war, and spent another four years in Paraguay building churches. Today she and her husband are building a “completely off the grid” underground house on eighty acres of land in northern Wisconsin. Quite honestly, she puts me to shame!
I share this story with you as I think about what the scripture has to say to our current context. I wonder how often we, like Jesus’ detractors and me as a big brother, fall into the trap of only seeing people through the stereotype and the narrative that we have created for them. We, in religious institutions, often settle on an lazy narrative and split the world into two easy camps—the churched and the unchurched.
But is it possible that there might be a God-infused spirit in that unchurched person that challenges our default narrative to simply place them in the “unchurched” category? Is it possible that God is showing up in people and places that don’t fit the story that we have reserved for God? Is it possible that God is actually busy creating the kingdom with average people down the street, the son of Joseph, little sisters, the smiling checker at the grocery store, the panting runner who races past you every morning, and the fussy neighbor on the other side of the fence?
Is it possible that God’s world is bigger than our world?
Is it possible that our default narratives have more fiction than non-fiction in them?
Is it possible that God just laughs at our “little sister” stereotypes?
Thank you for another excellent essay. Again, you’ve “niggled” me where I need niggling!
So many applications of this excellent message. Guess I’ll have to stop stereotyping presbytery execs!