Jesus says, “I have overcome the world,” and then a few days later they kill him.
Does that strike anyone besides me as slightly ironic? I mean, of course, a few days after they killed him, he rose from the dead and achieved an unprecedented spiritual victory, but he had to die to get there.
What’s more ironic is that just before he says, “I have overcome the world,” he has this to say: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!” That’s irony.
First of all, the idea that the disciples (and all the rest of us) would have trouble seems fairly obvious. That statement would never qualify Jesus as a prophet. We all know, all too well, that trouble is everywhere.
Second, Jesus wants us to be encouraged by the idea that he has overcome the world. He even says it in the past tense.
If he has overcome the world, how does that apply to us and our trouble? Moreover, if he has overcome the world, and then the world kills him anyway, in spite of the fact the world’s already been overcome, how is that supposed to comfort me? Pardon me, but at first glance, I’ll take my trouble, if that’s the alternative.
“Take heart,” he says! That’s enough to make you go “hmmm”, or chuckle a bit, isn’t it?
If I were the disciples, hearing that pep talk, I’d be thinking Jesus was about to lay out the map to easy street. I’d be sure he was going to show me the way to overcome just like he had, and I’d be a little excited about the possibilities.
But, after a few days, when I saw the way he was going about his overcoming business, I’d be a little disappointed with the methods. Looks to me like he was getting out of the frying pan and into the fire, and I’d be a little disenchanted with my discipleship commitment.
Everything about Jesus is dripping with irony. It’s contradictory – at least at face value. It’s the quintessential paradox.
This is truly ingenious if you think about it.
The truth is he really was laying out the methods for getting over and through our troubles. He was making an intentional effort to lead the disciples to the bottom, knowing that getting to the bottom was the only way for them to ever really see the top. I mean, resurrection is only possible for the dead.
But, I don’t think the message is only that we need to “die to ourselves,” as the common Christian saying goes – meaning that we should give up what we want to do, and do what he wants us to do. That’s a nice sentiment, and a necessary lesson, but I think there was more to it.
I think he was telling us that we should be encouraged, in spite of our trouble, because he had overcome the world. In other words, the way out of my trouble is only found through the victory he has accomplished over the ultimate trouble.
My own crucifixion, or death to my selfish desires, can’t add anything to what he’s already done. However, my devotion to him – his death and resurrection – with all of the temporary trouble that brings, is most assuredly the only way out of trouble.
Either Jesus was a little delusional, falsely believing he was all that and a bag of chips – faster than a speeding bullet and such – or he was absolutely, brilliantly saving us from our trouble. I’m betting on the latter.