Bit Parts


[Photo Credit: Public domain. Reprinted from Wikipedia. Accessed on May 1, 2020 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closing_credits#/media/File:Example_movie_end_credits.png]


Carol and I have been watching a lot of movies during the past few weeks. I watch the main characters, of course. But I also find myself focusing on the characters playing the minor roles—the “bit parts” that don’t attract the attention (or the income) of the stars, and yet the storyline of the movie depends upon them. Sometimes you have to wait for the closing credits to find the names of the actors playing these roles. They might be actors looking for their first big break into the movies. Other times, these actors might be content in simply earning a living by playing these small but important roles for their entire careers.

Are there “bit parts” in following Jesus? In my devotional reading this morning, I came across two characters that some might say had such minor roles in the Bible that they might be described as “bit parts” in the story of the Gospel.

The first is James, the Son of Alphaeus. Today, the Christian Church celebrates the Feast Day of St. James, the Less. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as the Book of Acts, identify one of the twelve apostles as “James, the son of Alphaeus.”[1] These are the only Biblical references to this James. There has been a lot of confusion through the centuries about whether this is the same James as “James the Less” (sometimes known as “James the Younger”) or James the brother of Jesus. If it was James, the brother of Jesus, then this presumably would be the same James who presided as a bishop of Jerusalem and played a pivotal role in determining how much of the Jewish law would have to be obeyed by gentiles seeking to convert to Christianity—a story that is detailed in Acts 15. If this was the same James, then his role is by no means a “bit part,” but the identities just are not clear.

The second bit part that I came across is the role played by Ananias in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, described in the ninth chapter of Acts. This Ananias responded to a vision of the Lord. When the Lord called him by name, Ananias responded, “Here I am, Lord.” (see Acts 9:10). The Lord then gave Ananias the direction to find Saul, who had been blinded by a vision, lay hands on him, and heal him. This was a dangerous mission, for Saul had been on a mission to find Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to appear before the religious authorities. Despite the danger, Ananias obeyed. As a result, Saul was converted, and he became the “instrument of the Lord” to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. We never hear of Ananias again.

Although we do not know the full story of James, the Son of Alphaeus, we do know that at some point he responded to the invitation of Jesus to be a disciple. And although we only know of Ananias from one incident in the Book of Acts, we know that he played a pivotal role in opening Christianity to the entire world.

The point is this: we do not know how much influence our lives will have on others. Our culture may measure influence by how many “friends” we have on Facebook or “followers” on Twitter. People may look to see how many books we have written, how many movies we have starred in, how many recordings we have made, how many sports championships we have won, how much money we have earned, how much property we own … the list goes on.

We look at these external measures of greatness, but God looks at us differently. When God led the prophet Samuel to anoint a shepherd to become King of Israel, He told Samuel that people “look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). We are not called to be famous; we are called to be faithful.

Question for Reflection: What is God calling you to do today?

[1] See Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.

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