“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, . . . so that you became an example to all the believers.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6–7)
Suppose they could actually speak to us, the characters described throughout the pages of Scripture whom we barely consider as we swiftly scan their stories. What would they say, what lines would they extend from their noble hearts to ours, these men and women whose lives brushed against the Savior when dust clung to his feet and wrinkles marked his robes?
We usually learn from the familiar ones: Mary’s willing heart and Elizabeth’s blameless character, John the baptizer’s unwavering zeal and startling humility, the shepherds’ obedience in sharing the good news. But what about the obscure people whose stories barely fill an inch of sacred space? If we are willing to look closely, to stare a little longer at their brief encounters, the light leaking from their ordinary lives might reveal how “to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
The leper comes in desperation, begs for relief from his suffocating burden but makes no presumptuous demands. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” he cries (Luke 5:12). Since you are most definitely in charge, Lord, I appeal to you, but I ask according to your perfect will. You know what is best for me. I cannot fix the mess I am in. You are the only one capable of releasing me from my captivity. So I come before you, throw myself at your mercy, and wait for you to address my needs. I hardly dared believe you would consider me worthy, but here you are, touching me with your holy hands. My wretched condition cannot overpower you. In fact, you are the only one capable of infecting me with your healing love.
When he beckons to Levi at his workplace, Jesus welcomes him to be part of the team (Luke 5:27). Without hesitation, Levi follows. Leaving everything behind, he gets up and joins the Master. And the very first thing we see Levi doing is throwing a great feast in his own home and inviting a “large company” of his fellow tax collectors to be with Jesus (Luke 5:29). Not only am I going with you, Lord, I am determined to share you with everyone within my sphere of influence. I will gladly give up my old life to follow you, and I want those I am acquainted with to know and follow you as well. I will gladly spend my resources to bring my friends to you. Some will listen and follow my example; others may not. But I throw open my home, invite you in, and give you the freedom to orchestrate change in them.
We know the woman was incredibly afraid, but she pushed through the crowds anyway. We are not introduced to her by name, and her primary identification flows from her weakness—she had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. She creeps up behind Jesus believing with all her heart that if she could only touch him, she would be made well (Mark 5:25–28). I don’t need a special audience with the Healer. I don’t care that he is busy and I am seemingly unimportant. It doesn’t matter that no other human being has been able to help me. I am going to make my way to him, reach out to him, and believe with all my heart with what little strength l have left that he is enough for what is troubling me.
They came to Jesus for help and they came to him when he called—and their lives were altogether transformed. Their response to the Lord leaves us with an example to follow, a pattern to imitate as we make our way through the stories he crafts especially for us.
Elizabeth A. Mitchell