In his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg tells of a young man named John Gilbert. At age five, John was diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic, progressive, debilitating disease. At age 25, the disease finally claimed John’s life.
Every year John lost something. One year, he lost the ability to run, so he couldn’t play sports with the other kids. Another year he could no longer walk straight, so all he could do was watch others play. He lost the ability to do all the outward things that we think of that make us human. Eventually, he even lost the ability to speak .
John Gilbert suffered far more than what most of us can imagine during those years. Groups of students humiliated him because of his condition and because he had to bring a trained dog to school to help him. A bully used to torture him in the lunchroom where there were no supervising teachers. No one ever stood up for him; maybe they were afraid for themselves; who knows?
“What a silly species we are,” John writes. “We all need to feel accepted ourselves, but we constantly reject others.”
But John had other moments in his life, too. Once he was invited to a National Football League fundraising auction. When it began, one item in particular caught John’s eye: a basketball signed by the players of the Sacramento Kings professional team. John so desperately wanted that ball that when it came up for bid, he felt his hand raise up in the air. Not having the funds to participate, John’s mother quickly brought it back down.
They watched the bidding go up and up and up. It rose to an astounding amount compared to the value of the ball and especially compared to other items at the auction. Finally, a man made a bid that no one else could possibly match, and he won the prize.
The man walked to the front and claimed the basketball. But instead of going back to his seat, the man walked across the room and gently placed it into the thin, small hands of the boy who had desired it so strongly. The man put that ball into hands that would never dribble a ball down a court, never throw it to a teammate, never fire it from the foul line. But those hands would cherish it for as long as they lived.
“It took me a moment to realize what the man had done,” John writes. “I remember hearing gasps all around the room, then thunderous applause and weeping eyes. To this day I’m amazed Have you ever been given a gift that you could have never gotten for yourself? Has anyone ever sacrificed a huge amount for you without getting anything in return except the joy of giving?”
Whether you’ve ever received a gift like this one or not, you and I have been given the most extravagant gift imaginable. The gift of total forgiveness, fierce love, unyielding acceptance- through the death of God’s Son, Jesus.