At least some readers know that I am also the assistant speech coach at Pine River-Backus. By the time this edition is delivered, Pine River-Backus (and Pequot Lakes) would have had just over a week before our subsection, elimination tournament.
Now is the time that we must refine and perfect performances. I think back to high school as a competitor at this point in the season: I wanted to win, and to do so I felt I needed to be perfect - just like I felt like I needed to be perfect in my academic classes to counteract the GPA buster (physical education).
Professionally and personally, it sometimes feels like I need to have all the answers - and the perfect answers - or else everything will crumble to bits.
But do I; do any of us? And will it?
In the Revised Common Lectionary, the Second, Third and Fourth (and Fifth, but I’m ignoring that one) Sundays in Lent this year bring us encounters with imperfect people in the Gospel of John: Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman and the Man Born Blind.
Unfortunately, I’m not allotted the space to deal with the wonderful imagery and linguistics of John’s gospel that we encounter in these texts, so I’m left with doing a little highlighting: Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night with what he “knows” (cf. John 3:1). After a very confusing conversation (pay attention to the text and footnotes), he leaves dumbfounded.
The Samaritan Woman in John 4 should easily be seen in contrast to Nicodemus: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29, NRSV); this begins with a great invitation - albeit exaggerated - but the Greek syntax of the concluding question expects a negative answer (she’s wondering, but not convinced).
And then there is the Man Born Blind in John 9. When questioned about his healing miracle by the Pharisees, he repeats himself and seems uncertain. Twice he begins with the brilliant phrase, “I don’t know” (v. 12, 25), and reaches the pinnacle of confession with what we know (at this stage of John’s gospel even without outside Christological trappings) to be but a partial answer: “He is a prophet” (v. 17).
With this confession, he is probably a better confessor than the Samaritan Woman, who is definitely better than Nicodemus - but none of them has reached perfection.
Yet, these are great stories of faith; we just need to push a bit further along in the story. When Jesus reappears on stage and the formerly blind man sees him, he tells him: ‘“Lord, I believe” and he worshiped him (9:38).
The Samaritan Woman’s testimony to her villagers instigated a series by which many believed in Jesus - some because of her testimony, but others because of coming and seeing Jesus (4:39ff).
Nicodemus, who left dumbfounded, returns to prepare the body of Jesus for burial (19:39ff).
Did any of these have a perfect understanding of Jesus - even at the end of their stories? No. Were they good disciples and evangelists? Yes.
As someone who strives for perfection, I hate to say this: Maybe there is such a thing as doing enough - even when “enough” is not perfect.
That is where the work of the Spirit, and the work of others, enters, making our imperfect attempts impactful. And, of course, all one needs to do is to be in the top three at the section speech meet to make it to state, and really that’s good enough.
Perfection, ultimately, is not attainable personally or professionally, and that’s not the end of the world.