I have been a student of Christian teaching almost all my life and I have noticed that Jesus usually introduced a truth in the form of a paradox and illustrated it using a parable. A paradox is abstract, a truth that seems false on the surface. A parable is concrete. It is a simple story, a word picture you can usually enter into yourself.
Let me try my hand at teaching in this same way. Here is the paradox: “The way to greatness is humility.” Now here is a parable, a true story that illustrates the paradox.
My cousin Dave Opfer worked for a lawn treatment company in about 1987. One summer afternoon he was working in a residential neighborhood in Roselawn, Indiana. He was taking a break in his truck, watching a guy dribble the basketball in his driveway. Dave walked over and challenged the guy to a game of one-on-one. The guy smiled and said, “You’re on.”
My cousin is not very tall, nor is he an outstanding athlete, but he is good-natured and has a great sense of humor. Dave joked; “It’s only fair for me to warn you that I taught Michael Jordon everything he knows.”
The guy smiled and said, “Then you take the ball first and we’ll play make it take it.”
Dave shot and missed and never got his hands on the ball again. The guy easily drained six or seven shots in a row from over twenty-five feet out without even breaking a sweat.
“Good game,” Dave said, shaking his victor’s hand. Mopping his forehead Dave added, “You’re pretty good. You should be professional.”
“I am a professional,” he said. “My name is Craig Hodges. I play for the Chicago Bulls.”
Craig Hodges didn’t usually start for the Bulls but he was an outstanding player. Coach Phil Jackson would bring him in off the bench in situations when they needed a three-pointer. Of course he was a teammate and personal friend of Michael Jordon.
Dave should have spent a few more minutes in his truck sizing up his opponent before he strolled over and started trash-talking. It is always important to thoroughly scout your opponent before engaging him in conflict.
Dave called me the next day to tell me what happened. He was humbled by the experience but he was tickled with his brush with fame. We had a good laugh. To me Dave’s story sounded like the kind of story you might hear Paul Harvey tell.
I’ve learned the hard way that there is no way to get through life without encountering many humbling situations. One essential attitude in life is the ability humble yourself. According to the Bible those who exalt themselves are in for trouble, but good things begin to happen when we learn to regularly humble ourselves. I’ve been taught that God gives grace to the humble and grace is the desire and power to do what you know is right. Rather than aspiring to fame and greatness, it might be a better idea to cultivate a new level of meekness. You are never more like God than when you do that.
Jesus is God but humbled himself to take on the form of a man and he taught; “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” That’s a good word for those of us who will never meet Michael Jordon and can’t hit a three-pointer.
Kenneth L. Pierpont
Riverfront Character Inn
December 30, 2002