Congratulations Daniel Kaluuya on winning the Oscars. It’s ok if you don’t recognise the name, neither did I until he won the recent Oscars’ Award for Best Actor in Supporting Role for his character as Fred Hampton in the movie Judas and the Black Messiah. This is not a movie or character review, I’m sorry to disappoint, but merely an attempt to point out how ironic the award for the best supporting actor is.
A supporting role is a character in a narrative that is not the focus of the primary storyline, but appears in the story enough to be more than just a minor character or a cameo appearance. The Award is given in honor of an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance in that role. But what is a supporting role really? As the term straightforwardly dictates, his task is to support the main lead. His performance, therefore, should be based on how well he carries out the mission: shine the spotlight on the main character. Yet more often than not, the Award was given to actors who did the exact opposite, who performed so well such that the focus was on him and not the lead. He gets the Award for not doing his job.
Throughout the Oscars history, only five times has a single movie claimed both the leading and supporting role awards in the male category; Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey were the most recent winners for Dallas Buyers Club in 2014. Ten films boasted victories in the female counterpart, the last being Shakespeare in Love back in 1999. The supporting roles are only worthy winners if their fellow colleagues scooped the best main actor/actress titles as well. That’s how we know that they have done their job to the fullest. Can you imagine if the wingman got the girl instead of the guy chasing after her? Wouldn’t it be awkward if the best man outshone the groom?
If there were one man who truly personified the supporting character, that would be John The Baptist from the Gospels. He was assigned the privilege even before his conception (Luke 1:5–25). His task was prophesied at his birth (Luke 1:57–80). He knew his place and never hogged the spotlight to himself (John 1:19–28). He was single-minded in his mission to point people to Jesus (John 1:29–34). His life motto reads this: He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). Has anyone really outshone John the Baptist in carrying out the supporting role in its fullest?
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11
D.A. Carson points this out in his exposition on Matthew 11:11 regarding John the Baptist: John is greater than the others (Abraham, Moses, David, etc) because he introduced Jesus with greater clarity and immediacy than them. That is what a supporting role does. And that is what we are called to carry on — be the supporting characters that lead people to Jesus. Carson continues on the second part of the verse: we are greater than John because we can introduce Jesus with greater clarity and immediacy than John, because we have witnessed and experienced the death and resurrection of Jesus. Truly, the greatest are those who experienced and introduced Jesus to others. It’s a spectacular privilege. Christian criteria of greatness is very much Christ-centred. It’s all about Jesus.
May I also suggest for us to take heed on three matters:
1.Don’t make the biblical examples greater than Jesus
All biblical characters are meant to lead us to Jesus. They are, after all, like John the Baptist, the supporting roles. Each of their stories are strokes of colours on the canvas that reveals the masterpiece: the portrait of the Son of God. Their lives, intertwined with both threads of obedience and transgression, are merely subjects of grace that were masterfully sewn by the Great Tailor to make a robe fitting for the Son of Man. They were meant to be more than just moral and character lessons; their life purpose is to direct us to Jesus in the bigger narrative of God’s salvation plan in the Scriptures.
2.Don’t make preachers / pastors greater than Jesus
In a world of influencers and celebrities, the danger is always to adopt the same culture in the Christian circles. Preachers and pastors never began their ministries with the aim to overtake Jesus in the charts. In most cases, if not all, these leaders started with the genuine desire to promote the King of Kings. Yet, that path may take a slight detour, and somewhere along the road, the intention changes. Sometimes, it’s us who put them on a pedestal higher than the pulpit they preach. We take their word (and interpretation of the Word) as the superior authority, resulting in a subliminal form of idolatry. We need to recognise that all preachers and pastors are still sinful mortals saved by grace like each of us, and it is our role to support and keep them accountable in their ministry to preach Jesus.
3.Don’t make ourselves greater than Jesus
Spoiler alert: It’s never about us. We were, are and will always be the supporting characters in God’s story. One day, it would be at Jesus’ name, not ours, that all knees would bow, and all tongues would confess — He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9–11). And as we prepare for that Day, may we continue to echo the words of John the Baptist, possibly the greatest supporting role ever lived: He must increase, but I must decrease. When we faithfully play our God-given responsibility, we will eventually receive an award greater than the Oscars: the crown of righteousness from the Giver of Life Himself (2 Timothy 4:7–8), and hear the greatest words of recognition: Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).