Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them
This is the title of a book by John Ortberg. I was walking through a bookstore one day, saw it, and decided it might be fun to read. It was fun—and interesting. The author’s thesis is that, while God intended for us to live together in community, our brokenness and sinfulness make that difficult if not impossible. Ortberg’s book is aimed at helping Christians learn to live together in spite of our shortcomings
We’ve all known people who, at first glance, appear to be perfectly normal, but turn out, when we get to know them better, to have quirks and foibles that make them—shall we say…interesting? Some of them may be family members, or close friends. Whatever the relationship, we love them in spite of—or perhaps because of—those quirks and foibles. Still, their “imperfections” can make them difficult to live with.
Of course, there’s a dark side to this as well. Some people take advantage of their seeming normalcy to get close enough to cause serious trouble. Many of those who harm others appear at first to be okay, but turn out later to be troubled—and troublesome—people, sometimes monstrously so. It’s one of the reasons we’re told as children not to talk to strangers. It’s good advice for adults as well, whether in person or online.
Today’s reading talks about the calling of the first disciples. Scattered throughout the gospels are stories of Jesus inviting many of the twelve to join him. Even more scattered are the pictures of these disciples as they interact with Jesus. Nowhere do we find the calling of all of the twelve in one place. Peter, Andrew, James and John are the ones whose call stories are found most frequently. Matthew and Luke tell us about the calling of Matthew (or Levi). John tells us about Jesus’ encounter with Philip and Nathaniel.
The gospel writers tell us very little about most of the twelve. We hear about how they came to Jesus perhaps, see their names in the lists of his closest followers, and that’s about all. We hear about them as part of the twelve, but seldom if ever by name. “The disciples” bring people to Jesus to be healed. “The disciples” try to keep children from “bothering” the Master. “The disciples” are sent out on a healing and preaching mission, but we don’t know who went with who. We are seldom given individual names, or hear individual comments from most of them. Those we do know seem one way or another to fall into the category described by the title of this column.
· James and John, who want to be Jesus’ right- and left-hand men in heaven.
· Thomas, who sounds like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, complaining about following Jesus to Jerusalem to die with him, then refusing to believe he had risen until presented with physical proof.
· Andrew, who seems perfectly happy to return to fishing with his brother Peter when it looks like the adventure is over.
· And Peter, the one who could be the star of the aforementioned book. Good old “sometimes up and sometimes down” Peter, who confesses Jesus as the Christ then denies he even knows his Lord.
Every one of them seemed to be normal at the beginning, but turned out to have character flaws that made them abnormal—or were they? If everyone is normal until you get to know them, doesn’t that include us? Don’t we have the same quirks, the same foibles, the same character flaws as everyone else?
Of course we do. And God loves us in spite—or more likely because—of them.