This week at Scargill House in Yorkshire I showed the following video:
and I asked the question, what stories did Jesus tell about dumb ways to die?
The response was great – lots of his stories feature people dying in unnecessary ways. There’s a rich fool who hoards all he has, and instead of sharing anything, simply invests in bigger storehouses. The poor guy dies as a result. Then there are the workers who take over a vineyard and claim it for their own, even though they are only tenants. When the owner sends his men to claim it back the workers beat them up. When the owner sends his son the corrupt tenants decide to kill him so there will be no heir. The result? The owner sends his army to slaughter everyone. Dumb and unnecessary.
Two men build houses, one on a good solid foundation, the other on a sandy swampy kind of place. Inevitably the weather takes a turn for the worse and – you guessed it – the swampy guy gets his house, and probably his life, washed away in the flood. A king throws a big wedding feast and invites lots of his friends. However, those so-called ‘friends’ of his just want to derail his party, make insulting excuses and refuse to come. So the king invites all the poor and marginalised people to come instead. And the result for his ‘friends’? The king sends men to wipe them out. Ouch! Dumb way to die – refusing a party invitation. Like it or not Jesus told some shocking stories. Tales of the unexpected. And like the Dumb Ways to Die video they were intended to point towards life.
I used to think that all Jesus’s stories were about how to get into heaven. That he was walking around 2000 years back with one purpose, to get people from this world into the next. But having spent time reading up on his life I have discovered that actually he spent most of his time showing people how to live in this world. The rich fool dies because he won’t live generously. The foolish dude dies in a flood because he won’t take note of Jesus’s teaching about money, relationships, life, anger, kindness, lust and many other things.
One person in the session at Scargill pointed out that Jesus himself chose the ultimate ‘dumb way to die’. He didn’t have to allow others to arrest him, beat him, mock him and nail him to a Roman cross. He could have avoided all this. Walked away. But he refused. In the sacrificial system of his day Jesus chose to become the ultimate sacrifice. In doing so he brought to an end the violent sacrificial ways of his and any other day, and in the process began a work that affects everything. His dumb way to die was ultimately about bringing life.
We often talk of Jesus dying on the cross for people’s sins, and of course that’s a vital part of his sacrifice, way beyond anything we can really comprehend in the tiny confines of our mind. But to simply focus on this is to miss the truly profound and extraordinary nature of his death and resurrection. A little like focussing on one small corner of a huge, detailed masterpiece.
Verse 16 in chapter 3 of John’s blog translates as this – ‘God so loved the cosmos that he sent his only son…’ Not just God so loved people, or this world. But the entirety of his creation. Everything that is. Jesus’s mysterious death begins a process of healing and change for every single thing that exists anywhere. A guy called Paul, writing years later, made the comment that God has chosen the foolish things to flummox the ‘wise’ ways of the world. Jesus’s ‘dumb way to die’ (and I don’t mean that flippantly) is the ultimate, profound act that God has chosen for the way forward. Everything hinges on that.