“The ordinary is where we meet up with Jesus, and he is more profoundly nowhere else.” – Romand Coles
One of the most extraordinary things about Jesus, something that confounded and proved a stumbling block to even his closest disciples, was the sheer ordinariness of his existence. I don’t mean this in the sense of his teachings; clearly, he was extraordinary in the Way of Being of exemplified.
Rather, I mean the ordinary nature of the man Jesus. In him, we have a Palestinian peasant, born in a village we would not of if he had never lived, to an unwed teenage, at the very edge of empire. He was a day laborer, probably spending the majority of his life before ministry traveling to nearby Sepphoris, working long hours on Herod’s magnificent city.
But even after his entry into ministry, Jesus retained his essence of ordinary. Rather than the conquering king, rather than the over-thrower of Rome and second coming of King David, Jesus was an ordinary human, who communed with and loved other ordinary, flawed humans. He ate with sinners, loved unclean women, forgave extravagantly. He preferred the company of lepers to that of magistrates and priests. He was essentially homeless, living off the generosity and goodwill of ordinary Palestinian people. He was poor. He didn’t aspire to power or greatness. He was executed as a criminal, with no friends at his side.
Jesus was “radically ordinary,” to borrow a concept from Hauerwas and Coles. And thus, he calls us to a life of the same. Christians are not called to be purveyors of power and control. We don’t long for a seat at the table with the rich and powerful and beautiful. We don’t become insiders, and place our trust in electoral victories or temporal power. Instead, we are called to serve the “least of these.” We look for the blessings of the hungry and the meek and the forgotten. We are called to be ordinary, and thus, to be radical agents of change.
The one place where Jesus wasn’t ordinary was his extraordinary understanding of the power of relational living to change the world in a lasting and meaningful way. And so, he practiced the ordinary life of a man who meets and knows people. Simply that. And he knew that would be the key to the Kingdom.
This isn’t an ordinary that disengages. As Coles writes a bit later, “…all the arts of the ordinary that read patience as an invitation to escape from the tasks of large struggles against the gargantuan and fast-moving whirls of destruction are likewise highways of delusion.” We don’t embrace our ordinary in order to withdraw from the power of the world. Rather, we engage it as a practice oriented towards change on the macro level. The ordinary, when practiced in a way that is self-giving with no expectation of return, becomes the most powerful tool known to humanity.
So we are called to be relational beings. We make the world become the way we know it can be by changing lives, and we change lives by knowing people, talking to them, hearing them. Institutional power, political power, is important in it’s way. But the real way to change the world is to get to know the people near you, as Jesus got to know the people near him.
We meet Jesus in the ordinary. We bring the Kingdom by being ordinary.