JESUS, PAVAROTTI & EVERETT FERGUSON

Imagine this foreigner daring to approach this Jewish Messiah (Matthew 15:21-28).
How do we explain the broad spectrum of people that dared—facing one obstacle or another—to approach and speak to Jesus? A commander in the conqueror’s army; a woman in public, part of a hostile people and religion, a member of the Jewish Supreme Court or this Sidonian (Greek) woman with a severely troubled child. All of them experiencing great trouble and yet all believing they could speak to Him. There was some rivalry between the disciples of John and Jesus (John 3:25-30) and yet (Matthew 14:12) when John is killed his disciples “go and tell Jesus.” What was it about Him that led the high and low to feel they could speak to Him?
It’s said of Albert Dürer that he sharpened the wit and talent of all he met. He brought out the best that was in them. You’ve met people I hope who made you feel you had something worth saying, an opinion worthy of a hearing or an insight that added something to the matter under consideration. Don’t you love such people? The way they carry themselves, the way they treat people; the very way they look at people as they listen to them—all of that makes us dare to speak to them. They bring it out of us in part because they build no walls of self-importance around themselves. They bring it out of us because they make themselves available to us, as though they leaned over to us in a crowd and asked us, “And what do you think about all that?” And then they listen with sincere interest.
Though I never had the privilege of being around him much I always experienced that sense of things in the company of Everett Ferguson, a noted Church Historian. In his field he is truly light years ahead of the rest of us, being a learned scholar, but I always believed he listened to us as though he truly believed our opinions were worth expressing and worth hearing. There was no hint that he thought of himself as Mr. Wonderful. (How unlike some other professors I’m slightly acquainted with.) There was/is no pretense on his part, no feigned humility; just a gracious openness to others. There’s something immensely liberating in that and we thank God for such people.
Whatever his flaws I saw the magnificent tenor Pavarotti reveal that spirit. In a television program they followed the famous man around places in Italy and in Naples he went to a club/café and listened to a tenor who sang there.
It was clear even to me that the man wasn’t anywhere nearly as gifted as Pavarotti but when he was done the singer came to the world-renowned singer and he rose and greeted the club-singer graciously and with obvious sincerity. Sitting back down with his company he discussed with them the Naples singer’s presentation saying it differed from his own only in point of view of how the piece might be sung and he concluded by saying something to this effect, “But the Neapolitan interpretation of it may be the correct one.” I’ll always remember that. You know what I mean—you could tell such stories from your own experience.
This Sidonian-Greek woman had heard of Israel’s Messiah, the son of David, and the stories she heard about Him were such that she followed Him and His group calling out to Him for pity and help. Do you suppose that would have happened to Hitler or Stalin? (I’ll never forget if I live to be 900 seeing, in a documentary, Jews arriving (I think) in the death-camps when a woman (maybe in her fifties) approached a Nazi officer to ask if she could remain with her aged and feeble father rather than be separated. He turned, looked at her for a second or two and ferociously lashed her across the face with the riding-crop he was carrying. The pain must have been excruciating but it was the look on her face that stuck with me—a look of astonished and frightened protest as if she had said, “Please, I was only asking if……”
“And what made you so daring that you just kept following this now famous Jesus and His company, and shouting over and over and over again? Why would you not be intimidated into silence?” Someone that didn’t really know Jesus might have asked her that. She probably would have said. “It was the stories I heard about Him. They all had a number of things in common and one of them was that He really liked people like me and wanted to help them.” But she would have said more than that. I know that’s true because it was her faith that Jesus was happily startled at (Matthew 15:28 and context). “Oh woman, how great is your faith…”
Mark Rutherford said, “I wish to add a beatitude. Blessed are those who give us back our self-respect.” God’s blessings continue on those that help to free us from crushing shyness or a crippling sense of unworthiness (many more of us suffer from those debilitating senses that we think. They hide it well and fool us in public.)
God bless all those that make us believe our concerns matter to them or that our words are welcome even if we know we aren’t in their league or that we don’t have a lot to offer. In this they image the Lord Jesus and He images God and that’s what keeps hope and assurance alive and the Story worth telling everywhere we go and everywhere we are allowed by our critics or superiors to tell it.

Holy One, thank you for allowing us to speak truth about you and to speak to you despite our unworthiness and our clumsiness in thought and speech. Give those who by your grace are our betters and more gifted also the grace to let us speak and engage in honorable enterprises that bring you glory and blessing to others. So many of us want to feel useful; we die a little when we are silenced or made to feel we should sit idle in a corner because we are weak or perhaps have shamed ourselves. This prayer in the name of the living and gracious Lord Jesus.)

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