TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — In the Christian canon, all figures fall short in the shadow of Jesus Christ but for many, scripture captured the imagination as children in the form of figures like Samson or Jonah.
From Esau to Methuselah, the names in the Bible are as numerous as grains of sand. Some characters are granted whole books, while others it seems, get scarcely a passing glance.
Pastors say each one offers something worthy to be gleaned, and they have a few favorites of their own.
For the Rev. David Eldridge, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors has always resonated as a testament to God’s constant work behind the scenes.
“God takes Joseph through the pit, the prison, and the palace,” Eldridge says. “It’s a good reminder that God is really working all things together for good.”
Especially poignant is at the end of the story, during the famine, when Joseph’s long-lost brothers appear, asking Joseph for food without recognizing who he is.
“In a sense he’s toying with them, and I think this is a moment where you see the humanity of Joseph,” Eldridge said. “He also shows us that the path to reconciliation is not always a neat, straight line.” The Rev. Carson Overstreet, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo, sees a profound vulnerability and strength in the figure of Ruth, one of only four women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.
In the book of Ruth, Naomi loses a husband and two sons, and is left to care for her sister- and two daughters-in-law.
“With the men of the family dead, the widows are left vulnerable,” Overstreet said. “The options for widows at the time were to re-marry or become prostitutes to support themselves.”
Ruth has no obligation to stick around, Overstreet says, but she stays with the other women for the sake of community and loyalty.
“She has a lot of determination in the face of adversity,’’ Overstreet said. “And that gives us strength.’’
King’s Gate Worship Center pastor, the Rev. Terry Garrett, gravitates toward Elijah because among goliath-slayers and sea-parters, the prophet is, well, pretty normal.
“Elijah had a nature like ours. He wasn’t a superhero, just a man of faith who God used mightily,” Garrett said.
Garrett said the story of Elijah is indicative of the Pentecost spirit, because Elijah shows the gifts of the spirit are available to everyone.
“It would risk the whole movement of God by the body to say only a select few can do works,” he said. “It’s exciting that a normal person can achieve the same results through prayer as an apostle or prophet.”
The Apostle Paul is an inspirational figure to the Rev. Clementine Mays, of Poplar Springs CME Church. Paul saw instructing other ministers is equally important as saving lost sheep.
“I believe Paul penned the pastoral letters – I Timothy, II Timothy and Titus – to help guide others in the ministry,” Mays said. “Therefore, I’ve tried to study the word in a way that I can help mentor other ministers along the way.”
Mays also admires Paul’s conviction after his conversion, even through pain, suffering and death.
“Paul’s story shows that it doesn’t matter how you start in life,” she said. “And no one can write your story but you.”
The Rev. Stanford Adams, curate at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, found commonality with doubting Thomas through his own inquisitive nature.
“I’ve found that when I approach my own journey with questions, I am most open to listening,” he said.
For Adams, the figure of Thomas was crucial in the discernment process required by the Episcopal church for all reverends-to-be.
“To question helps me see where God is involved in every event and relationship,” he said.
The Rev. Jim Curtis, pastor of First United Methodist Church, said the disciple Peter caught his attention through the Tenebrae services of his youth.
“Peter is a type A personality with none of the ability,” Curtis said. “When Elijah and Moses appear to them, Peter doesn’t know what to say. So he can’t shut up.”
But Curtis said Peter’s impulsivity, as shown when Peter jumps out of the boat after Jesus when Christ walks on water, may reveal something more.
“In Peter I see a hunger for more,” Curtis said. “Jesus called Peter first. But why did Peter follow him? They didn’t know each other. Maybe Peter was a terrible fisherman, but he wanted to connect to something greater, and I can immediately relate to that.”
Adam Miller, minister at Mayfield Church of Christ, said though Enoch is referenced only four times in scripture, what the book says about the father of Methuselah is wondrous.
“All the Bible really tells us is that Enoch walked with God, then scripture literally says, ‘He was not, for God took him,’” Miller said. “This man walked in such faith that God didn’t make him suffer death. That’s extraordinary.”
As a pastor, Miller said he sees himself in Joshua, who God chose to lead the Israelites to the promised land after Moses.
“Imagine being tapped to fill Moses’ shoes,” Miller said. “From the very beginning to the end, Joshua trusts God, even through defeat. As a leader, it’s easy to get frustrated sometimes, but Joshua finished the job.”
The Rev. Rick Brooks, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church, pointed to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and scholar baffled by Jesus’ words and deeds, who comes to question Christ in secret.
“Nicodemus is a seeker,” Brooks said. “He has a deep feeling of some great truth to be discovered. And he had the courage to personally seek Jesus out.”
The gospel of John tells that Nicodemus took up for Jesus when the Pharisees plotted against him, and later helped Joseph of Arimathea lay Jesus to rest in the tomb.
“After he became a follower, his life changed forever,” Brooks said. “He never hid his faith in Jesus again.”