32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Hebrews 11:32-40 (NIV)
Have you ever been told you have big shoes to fill? As children we are shaped by stories of bright, brave men and women no longer with us but whose world-changing legacies live on. Their biographies shape our understanding of what good, virtuous lives look like even as those long shadows of greatness can block out the light to see where we are to walk ourselves.
This section of Hebrews names those whose legacies were alive in the memory of the people who first received this letter. They used their lifetimes in ways which prepared the way for more of God’s reign and goodness to be made visible in our world. They each, however, had their own rough edges which the writers of scripture knew were important enough to put to the page. Just reread Samson’s life (Judges 13-16) and remember how he got himself into trouble; reread Jephthah (Judges 11-12) and remember why vows are not to be made lightly. We celebrate these people not because they were perfect but because they were faithful.
Who are your heroes and role models? When you look to their lives, do you see unattainable perfection? Or do you instead see discipline, attention to the things that matter, and a willingness to persevere through setbacks? The saints we remember in the faith who went before us aren’t remembered for their perfection but rather for their willingness to keep growing and being shaped by God’s designs for our world.
No matter who you admire and seek to emulate, remember that they wake up and put their pants on one leg at a time, too. They stub their toes and say uncharitable things; they get sick and discouraged; they changed their plans when necessary and let go of things which they thought might destroy them to lose. They were and are human like you. There are no shoes so big you can’t walk a mile in them, too, growing all along the way.
Grace and Peace,