Who are the Real Heroes?

What is a hero?

  1. An icon. 
  2. An idol. 
  3. A god.
  4. “Someone who commits an act of remarkable bravery or who has shown an admirable quality such as great courage or strength of character.” (Encarta)
  5. A long sandwich filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.

Years ago, the recently late comedy hero Norm MacDonald did a whole bit (explicit content) about heroes. Disagreeing with the sentiment that “the real heroes are the teachers,” he said, “I think the real heroes are the real heroes.” A teacher in the audience heckled him, so in true heroic Norm fashion he leaned into it. “You know you’re not the actual real hero, do you? … I think you’ve disqualified yourself a little, because I believe real heroes don’t think they are.” He’s my hero.

I know it’s a comedy bit, but I think he’s right are heroes. Can we all just please admit that the word “hero” is overused? Like “awesome” no longer means “filled with awe” and some people say “miracle” for something that’s just amazing?

For crying out loud, everyone’s a hero now. It’s like a hero comes along with the strength to carry on, and you can look inside your heart and see that a hero lies in you. (Darn you Mariah Carey, you beautiful hero.) The word no longer has meaning. In 2020, all of a sudden everyone was a hero because of … reasons? We all … suffered? The real heroes left their homes to do things? No, that can’t be, because if I left my home or tried to do my job of proclaiming the gospel and forgiving sins in the name of Christ I was maligned. I guess it was the wrong job.

Who are the heroes? I’m sure the real heroes are out there, but aren’t most of them just people trying to do their jobs who find themselves rising to heroic status in crises? I mean, no one sits down with their high school guidance counselor and says, “When I grow up, I want to be a hero.” 

Remember the parable in Luke 17:7–10? Suppose you have a servant in charge of plowing and husbandry. Will you thank him because he did what he was told to do? “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

How many times have you seen or heard of some awesome act of miraculous heroism, like a guy running into a burning building to save a child, or firefighters running up the WTC to save people, or a platoon of soldiers liberating a village? They always interview these real heroes, and every single one of them demur, “No, I’m not a hero. I just did what I had to do.”

That’s the hero I’m holding out for. He’s gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be fast, and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight. Someone who does what needs to be done without demanding that everyone call him a hero. A society that declares everyone a hero strips the word of all meaning, and it mocks those whose chosen professions actually carry the great potential to be heroic.

So, nurses. We honor their heroism so much that close to 20% were laid off last year. Teachers. Everyone has that one teacher who played the hero in their life. They are so self-sacrificial and heroic that some of them refused to go back to work and private education has skyrocketed. Soldiers. A natural-born heroic instinct if ever there was one. So order them to abandon their charges to terrorists. Cops? No, cops are only heroes if you vote Republican, and who wants to stoop that low?

No wait, I know who the real heroes are! I saw a sign that told me! Outside of an Aldi supermarket flew the flag: “Heroes work here.”

Yep, I found the real heroes. The dude stocking cheap wine at a grocery store. What a hero.

If only we had just one hero, maybe the word would mean something again. You know, someone who had the opportunity to save his own skin, but instead gave himself up to torture and death in order to save the world.

Oh wait.