Jesus’ team isn’t made up of all-stars. Instead, He chose me, and you too.
By Mark Buchanan
I’ve never been good at team sports, especially if they involve a ball—catching one, kicking one, throwing one, hitting one, dribbling one. Big or small, dimpled or stitched, cored or inflated, if it’s a ball, I’m useless. I grew up topping golf balls, dropping baseballs, fumbling footballs, netting tennis balls. It was like I was a slapstick comedian, paid to bumble, except I couldn’t help it. I dreaded just the thought of playing any game that required even modest skill with a ball.
A childhood trauma, repeated over and over, reinforced all this: the infamous schoolyard ritual of choosing teams. I don’t think they do this anymore, but it was standard policy in my day. The teacher chose the two star athletes from the class to be opposing captains, and in turn they chose, in alternating order, their teams from the pool of all available students. This never failed to end in humiliation for me. The only two players left by the end were, invariably, me and the pudgy bookish girl with asthma. It was an even draw which of us got picked last.
Then came Lars. That was Grade 5. Lars was a strapping boy of Nordic descent. He was almost six-feet tall even then. He was strong, and agile, and handsome. He abounded in good humour and winsome personality. And he was kind. He was always chosen, by a kind of cosmic acclaim, as one of the captains.
And then we milled about, waiting for the roll call. Everyone wanted to play for Lars. Everyone wanted to be chosen by him.
Lars became my best friend. And so, out of pure friendship and his deep-down kindness, he would pick me first. And under his tutelage, I even gained enough skill that, though still broadly inept, I wasn’t a complete disaster. I played well for Lars. He chose me, chose me first, and that alone boosted my confidence enough to boost my competence.
I’ve thought about that often over the years. I’ve thought about it when, in other contexts—business, ministry, social—I’ve been empowered to “choose the team.” It’s tempting, as it is for most “captains,” to choose the best: the brightest, quickest, funniest, most outgoing or eloquent or creative or educated or sophisticated. Only, this doesn’t seem to be God’s core method of selection. He tended toward a different kind of recruit: the hungriest, the most desperate, the most daring, the most available—an obscure shepherd boy with a sling shot, a hated runty tax-collector out on a limb, a rough-hewn fisherman with salty speech, a woman known for all the wrong reasons.
I want you. I choose you.
And under His tutelage, they became saints.
Thus, David’s gang when he was on the run from Saul: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander” (1 Sam. 22:2). Or Paul’s description of the church members in Corinth (and, by implication, every church everywhere): “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world …. God chose the weak things of the world ….. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not….” (1 Cor. 1:25-28).
Which brings me to the crucial point. God in Christ chose me despite me. And you, too. He chose us before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4), so that we might be a demonstration of His mercy and goodness and kindness. He did not choose us for our intelligence, or beauty, or wit or charm, or power, or influence.
He chose us because, well, He’s our friend, and it’s what friends do. And under His tutelage, we become “holy and blameless” (Eph. 1:4).
I wouldn’t care to watch a hockey game or tennis match made up of players picked for no other reason but their neediness.
Or maybe I would.
Because I’ve been grateful my whole life that Lars chose me when I had nothing to offer and everything to gain. Even more, I’ll be grateful eternally that Jesus chose me when I had nothing to offer and everything to gain.
It so overwhelms me, it’s even making me a better player.
MARK BUCHANAN is an associate professor of pastoral theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.
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