Article of the week: More than a number
12 September 2020
Major Paul Robinson reminds us that everyone is valued in the Kingdom of God
DURING the lockdown, my family watched quite a bit of sport, including a football match played in the 1960s. I was impressed with how orderly one team’s scoring was: the number 7 player scored, followed by number 8 and number 9. Later, we watched the 2020 version of the same team play a game live and number 53 scored.
I have a problem with this: how can you be number 53 in a team of 11 players? What has this person done that was so wrong they couldn’t squeeze him further up the ranking? How does number 53 feel about their place in the team? At school, when a teacher invited the two captains to pick their teams, I felt a bit like that every time – chosen right at the end.
There are those who can point to attending church and feeling like a number 53. They don’t quite fit in. They don’t play the right instrument. They can’t sing. Their family isn’t ‘Army’ enough.
Well, I have a confession: I love number 53s, the ones who do not fit, struggle to find other people’s acceptance or have made a mistake – maybe 53 mistakes. The people overlooked by others are the ones I enjoy spending time with.
I wonder how many number 53s there were in Jesus’ team. There was a group of important people – Peter, John and the other disciples – that spent time with Jesus, and everyone knew their place. But there were others as well.
Do you remember the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman? The Bible points out that on this occasion it took these 12 important, strong men to get lunch for 13 people (see John 4:8), while Jesus, thirsty and on his own, met up with a number 53. She was out at noon when no one would bump into her. Some people argue she was immoral, having had five husbands and now living in sin, but it is possible her marriages were with men who had died and were part of the levirate marriage system, in which a deceased man’s brother is obliged to marry his widow. Jesus listened to her story and her response was to go and tell others the Jesus story. When the disciples finally arrived with their bumper lunch, they saw a number 53 being treated the Jesus way.
What about the criminal crucified next to Jesus? Like the Samaritan woman, we are given only a few facts about the man, and they are certainly not enough to condemn him to that position for ever (see Luke 23:40–43). This man had made mistakes and perhaps had poor judgment in his friendships. As the man told his story, Heaven welcomed an ex-number 53. If we turn to Jesus, even if the world condemns us, he will welcome us.
Do you remember the two number 53s on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13)? They were tired and heartbroken, their lives had lost all meaning and their world had fallen apart. Perhaps they felt the world was laughing at their situation – fancy believing in a crucified Messiah!
Gently, carefully, Jesus helped them see that they were not number 53s but were valued; they had followed the true path and had a place in his Kingdom. Jesus gave them something that made them return to the disciples and tell them their story.
Do you ever feel like a number 53? I hope the more you spend your time with Jesus and the more you reflect on his story as found in Scripture, the more you will know you are far more than a number. You are unique, highly valued, called to live life with purpose and meaning; you have a story to tell and a calling to listen to the stories of others. Wouldn’t it be awful if the Lord brought number 53s to us and we were too busy to listen to their story or thought we were too important?
When you feel like a number 53, when life is hard and heavy and unfair, remember there is always room to be picked first for the Lord’s team.
MAJOR ROBINSON IS CORPS OFFICER, NORWICH MILE CROSS