Recently at Scargill House in Yorkshire I was part of a week where we used BBC’s Horrible Histories to get a fresh angle on some of the Bible stories. In one of their sessions the youngsters looked at some stupid deaths from the Old Testament. Horrible Histories features a series of sketches about stupid deaths. Deaths which have unexpectedly strange or humorous stories attached to them. Like this one.
There are lots of Old Testament folks who might have featured in the above sketch. Sisera has his head nailed to the floor with a tent peg by Jael. (Judges 4) King David’s son Absalom gets his hair caught in a tree and is left there dangling like a puppet till his enemy comes along and happily stabs him. (2 Samuel 18) King Adoni-bezek, who once hacked off 140 big toes and thumbs, dies without any of his own big toes or thumbs, presumably not while he was out trying to hitch a lift. (Judges 1) Evil King Eglon thinks he’s getting a message from God, but instead gets the business end of a sword from killer Ehud, right in his belly. So deep that all his guts spill out and make a very bad smell indeed. (Judges 3) Samson kills 30 men just so he can steal their clothes to pay off a hastily made bet. The nasty Philistines later get their comeuppance when they chained the big guy to their temple columns. Samson had a surge of divine strength and brought the house down with his biggest act of carnage ever. There was no time for applause or an encore because it killed the lot of ’em. Samson included. (Judges 14 & 16) Scheming Prime Minister Haman builds a gallows so he can hang his enemy and then ends up being strung up on it himself. (Esther 7) The list goes on…
In the New Testament Jesus tells lots of stories that feature stupid deaths. A rich man dies unnecessarily because he won’t share what he has with others, just stuffs it all away in ever bigger barns. (Luke 12) A group of tenants get slaughtered, again unnecessarily, because they try and take over a farm that is not theirs, and worse, they murder the owner’s son. (Matthew 21) When a group of folks refuse party invitations in a frankly insulting kind of way, they are later bumped off, most likely thrown into the Jordan wearing concrete ugg boots. (Matthew 22) Though this may seem extreme, within the context of this cartoon story the meaning seems to be, if they won’t come to the party of life, what’s left for them? And we need to bear in mind, these parables are like comic book tales, with extreme, shocking and sometimes humorous outcomes. Designed to entertain us as well as stop us in our tracks. Just like Dumb Ways to Die.
If you’ve not yet come across Dumb Ways to Die here it is – a song and video containing (as you might expect) a lot of dumb ways to die, I’ve used it from time to time to make the point above, Jesus told stories about dumb ways to die.
The notable thing about Dumb Ways to Die is that it makes a vital and pertinent point. There really are dumb ways to die. We laugh at the private parts being dangled as piranha bate, but we nod thoughtfully when we see that death can result from playing around train tracks. And Jesus’ stories work like this too. They are meant to be funny and shocking, and they are meant to point us towards the way of life, rather than the ways of destruction. To live selfishly, like the rich fool, affects our whole being. It destroys us little by little. To take over this world and act as if we own it and can do what we like with it has its own catastrophic results. We are meant to hear these stories, react with shock or laughter and then nod thoughtfully.
One of the things the youngsters did at Scargill House was to imagine a conversation between Jesus and Death if he had arrived at Death’s interview panel. So I had a go at that too.
Jesus: Jesus of Nazareth.
Death: Jesus of… No, no. Are you sure? We’re not expecting you.
Jesus: There may be a reason for that.
Death: Never mind, we’ve got plenty of room. What’s your story then?
Jesus: The Roman’s crucified me.
Death: Ooh, I bet that made you rather cross! Cross? get it? Cross? Cross! Oh never mind.
Jesus: Actually I forgave them.
Death: Oh well that certainly qualifies you for a stupid death. You don’t want to go forgiving those Romans. They’re horrible. Ugh! They crucified thousands you know. Sometimes all in one day. We had a rush on up here just last Tuesday. Dead bodies lined up everywhere. I couldn’t even go the loo! There were three people standing on the seat. What did the Romans get you for then?
Death: Nothing? But they crucified revolutionaries. Didn’t you start a riot or something?
Jesus: I made a mess in the temple one day. Knocked over a few tables.
Death: Oooh stroppy! Why was that?
Jesus: I was annoyed with the way they were presenting God. Getting folks to pay for forgiveness and keeping people out.
Death: Well we never keep people out! It’s three yeses from us. Congratulations you’re through to the afterlife!
Jesus: Actually I don’t want to go.
Death: Well tough mate. It’s right there, through that door.
Jesus: No. No, I’ve got to go back. Things to do, people to see. Be seeing ya… or rather, I probably won’t. Not after this.
Death: What? Wait? Come back! I said come back! You can’t beat me mate… Well will you look at that – he’s just gone. (Calls out) You’ll be putting us out of business sunshine! I dunno. That’s the second one this month. What was that other one called? Lazarus, that’s it. He was just on his way through the door when he went and legged it an’ all! What’s a man with a black cloak and a big scythe supposed to do? Eh? Eh? Next!