by Audrey West

In the house where I grew up, there is a large plastic bin filled with glittery scarves, 40-year-old prom dresses, baseball caps, a broken stethoscope, gardener’s gloves and a pile of fabric scraps. One day I encountered my niece digging through the dress-up bin, mixing and matching her way into an alternate identity.

She tried on and rejected a recent Halloween costume: a pair of denim overalls and crazy socks, reminiscent of her hero, Pippi Longstocking. A pink taffeta dress suggested lovely princess garb, but she discarded that when the tiara revealed jagged teeth marks, courtesy of the family dog. She considered the possibility of a white lab coat, like the one her scientist mom sometimes wore, but ultimately deemed it to be “too ordinary.”

In the end she chose a poodle skirt and Grandma’s old sweater. She was thrilled by the news that the block CA on the front of the sweater had been one of the first varsity letters awarded to a woman by the local university. My niece spent the evening twirling in her 1950s outfit, basking in the attention we lavished on her.

I asked if she liked to wear Grandma’s clothes in order to be like Grandma.

“No,” she said. “I like to be reminded that Grandma is a lot like me.”

A lot like the rest of us

It is good to remind ourselves that most of the people Jesus encountered in his ministry were a lot like us. This is especially true on days when we feel like our own faith lives are insignificant or do not measure up.

To be sure, there are substantial historical and cultural distinctions. Yet over the centuries and across cultures, the biblical stories continue to surprise, inspire and inform us. They tell us of people who were not necessarily extraordinary by their society’s standards. They were ordinary people who (sometimes on the spur of the moment) did memorable things, but on most days simply lived their otherwise “ordinary” lives.

For example, consider the familiar names of Moses, Sarah and Abraham, Mary and Joseph, the Apostle Paul. For the most part, we would not know them at all except for their presence in the pages of our Scriptures.

The same is true for Simon Peter, perhaps the greatest of the disciples, yet a rather ordinary and unremarkable fellow.

A fisherman by trade, probably illiterate, he quit his job to wander around the countryside with a virtually unknown itinerant preacher. We never learn how his parents felt about that life choice, although I imagine his mother-in-law was thankful that he shared with her his access to good medical care (Mark 1:30-31).

Peter was a leader among the disciples, and he frequently voiced their fears, their amazement and their joy. Among the high points of his discipleship was the time he stepped out of a boat to walk on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:28-33), as well as the time on the Mount of Transfiguration when he excitedly offered to build three booths in order to capture the magnificence of the moment (Matthew 17:1-8).

Perhaps most memorable is his confession at Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter alone gets it right when he blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:15-16).

Peter excels at bold faithfulness. He is the rock on which Jesus builds the church.

Not bad for an unemployed, illiterate fisherman.