so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
–William Carlos William
I was a Hope College student when I first read this poem by William Carlos William. I remember reading it away as each line instinctively shoves the reader into the next. It is simple, hardly complex, until suddenly it is. All sorts of questions begin to form, because what could be dependent upon a couple of ordinary chickens, a wheelbarrow, and the rain? Still, the speaker of the poem is insistent in ensuring that so much depends upon these ordinary things. In the same way, I can imagine that Jesus, walking down the street with his mother Mary and father Joseph, looked like every other child in Nazareth. Ordinary, scruffy, nothing special—just a child learning how to behave in the world. Yet, when Jesus emerges as first a great rabbi and then the Son of God, all of the gospels point to the significance of Jesus as both an ordinary man and divine savior. It’s as if the gospel writers are suggesting, just as our speaker does in the poem, that “so much depends upon things that appear ordinary.”
Luke 6:19-27 is a good example of this. 6:19 says, “He (Jesus) came down with them and stood on a level place.” Jesus “coming down” could be a geographical reference. But the phrase also serves as a clue, reminding us of Jesus’ true identity as the heir to God’s kingdom. Jesus, the son of God, was sent into the world to live among us. So, just as the story suggests, Jesus came down from a high place to be at a level place with the sick, and wounded, and tormented: in many people’s eyes, the lowest of society. And Jesus is more obviously made out to be the divine King as he heals everyone around him. He positions himself among these people, and he ushers in the kingdom of God, by granting new life through his healing. He finishes these works by stating “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
By now, we might notice how unordinary this behavior is for a king, particularly the Son of God. We may also notice what happens when Jesus begins to speak to his followers. Verse 20 says, “He looked up at his disciples.” I wonder if that means the disciples of Jesus are still standing above him rather than with him. Is it possible that they stopped just short of following Jesus when they saw the people he was moving toward? As Jesus says, “blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” he is correcting the disciples’ actions and demonstrating what it takes to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. To follow this king is to move down into the brokenness of poverty, loss, and grief—for that is where the Kingdom of God will be uncovered.
Translating this Scripture passage into our lives today may feel too difficult to give a second thought. It feels scary to move into the brokenness of other people’s lives. It seems too risky to live a life outside of the normal, the ordinary, what-everybody-else-is-doing. It’s easier to simply question the Scripture and move about my day. Is this passage really telling me to give away my money? What does verse 22 mean: “blessed are you when people hate you?” Unfortunately, when I sit in verses like these for too long, I find I am like the disciples. I see the direction that Jesus is leading me and the kinds of people I might have to share my faith with; these directions feel awkward and scary, so instead of continuing to follow him, I stop. Just like the disciples, I hesitate.
What matters is not necessarily the hesitation, but our willingness to take the next step—to move further into following Jesus, to move further into what is perhaps a broken relationship, a broken faith, a broken heart, a broken identity. What matters is our heart’s willingness to trust the next step and to believe in God’s transformative power—it is to taste and see that God really is good, right here, right now, in the world around us. Finally, following Jesus is to lay down our desires for too much ordinary, and to reach for the Kingdom of God in unbelievable ways. Because when we do, we really will discover that so much depends upon this ordinary world. So much, in fact, that God sent his one and only son into the world to save it from evil and deliver the whole of creation into eternal life.