IN HOLLYWOOD, heroism typically seems to involve daring feats, lots of explosions, and a fair amount of brightly colored spandex. Those superheroes may not want to be known in their everyday form, but they sure want to be noticed.
Real-life heroism often tends to be a bit more understated. To me, it’s less about standing out than simply standing up.
Take Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates (pictured), whose example lives on in history: the 105th anniversary of his feat arrives in a couple of weeks. As a member of the British team that explorer Robert Falcon Scott recruited to try to become the first to trek to the South Pole, Oates disliked all the hullabaloo surrounding the effort.
“I must say we have made far too much noise about ourselves,” he wrote in a letter to his mother before the group’s 1911-1912 expedition, “all the photographing, cheering, steaming through the fleet etc., etc., is rot, and if we fail will only make us look more foolish.”
Hampered by bad weather, the British finally reached their Antarctic goal on January 17, 1912. However, they discovered they had been beaten there by a few weeks by a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen.
Dejected, Scott’s group began their 800-mile return journey, struggling as weather conditions worsened. With badly frostbitten feet, Oates dangerously slowed the team’s progress to just a few miles a day, prompting him to ask the others to leave him behind and save themselves. They refused.
The next morning, March 12—his 32nd birthday—Oates got up and walked out into the blizzard with no shoes on. “I am just going outside,” he said as he left the tent, “and may be some time.”
Sadly, Oates’ sacrifice came to nothing. The other members of the team pressed on, but died in a camp just 11 miles short of a supply depot. Their bodies were found eight months’ later; Oates’ was never recovered.
Noble as Oates’ actions were, he may have been a flawed hero. Speculation persists that he had fathered an illegitimate child with an under-age girl. Nevertheless, his quiet courage came to mind as I recently read through the Gospel of John.
Following the Last Supper, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas brought a mob to arrest Him. Fresh from agonizing in prayer, asking three times that the crucifixion might yet be avoided if possible, Jesus went out into His own storm.
He may not have looked like a hero. After all, Isaiah 53:2’s reference to the coming Messiah noted that he “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (ESV). The John 18 account suggests that His arresting party did not even recognize Him.
He didn’t stand out, but He stood up. In verse 4, we read, “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward…” (my emphasis). He didn’t duck, dodge, or delay. He met what was coming head-on—a sacrifice that, unlike Oates’, would not be in vain.