Who’s your hero? Who do you try to imitate? Up here in Packer country it’s probably a football player, but it could be a baseball or hockey star. When they are playing we are either at the game or glued to the TV. We buy shirts with their names on them and wear their team colors. We copy their taste in everything from the shoes they wear to the cars they drive. Kids even dress up like them at Halloween. Next to movie stars, sports figures are probably the most imitated people on the planet.
Why is that? What have they done to deserve such adulation? How long will it last? Chances are, the reason is that we see them as “winners.” We admire them because of the number of touchdowns they have scored, the home runs they have hit or the number of Stanley Cup teams they have been part of. Whatever their claim to fame, however, their popularity usually lasts just about as long as their winning streak or until another star comes along to take their place.
But every so often someone comes along who’s not like the others. These folks don’t seem to care whether or not they make the sports highlights. It could be the football player who goes out of his way to entertain the kids at the children’s hospital and hangs around long after the TV camera operators have gone home, or the hockey player who teaches physically challenged teens to skate even though there are no reporters covering the story. When people call them heroes they point to the boy who smiles through his chemo or the girl who struggles to skate with an artificial leg. “I’m not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of [their] sandals…,” they might say.
“[P]eople of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist].” John must have been almost as popular as those sports stars. But, like some of them, John didn’t seem to care. He only pointed to Jesus. John knew who the real hero was. Who are our heroes? Who do we try to imitate? And why?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.