We began our Lenten journey this year by going straight to the end, where Jesus, in his dying moments on the cross, uttered a single word “Tetelestai” (no idea if that is the correct spelling but that will have to do). This word translates into English as “It is finished”.
But what is finished? Several things, which we are currently in the process of unpacking. This is by no means an exhaustive listing; I am only hitting on a few. If you’ve just joined us this week, it’s kind of like turning on a movie midway through. I won’t try to catch you up on the earlier posts in the series now; they are in the archives and will be there for ever and ever, or at least as long as there is an internet, so you can do that for yourselves.
This week: The world’s way of doing things is finished.
The world’s way of doing things is all about power. It is all about trying to get ahead and stay ahead. It is all about trying to project a huge impression of yourself so that others think you are big and important. It is all about letting other people know just how big and powerful you are so that they are impressed. It is all about chasing extraordinary, because as noted a couple of weeks back, in our present American culture, success equals life and to fail is to die.
We see the world’s way of doing things in the lives of individuals (believers or not, it doesn’t matter–we all have done and are doing this in some form or fashion, to some extent or another) who project a false self in order to gain the acceptance of others. We decide who we wish we could be and who we think others wish we could be, and then work hard to project that to others. Examples of this are rife in the world of religion: the preacher who is normal in real life but gets behind the pulpit and morphs into this pious, feel-good, sing-songy clergyman, your soft-spoken friend in small group who at prayer time turns into this wildfire Pentecostal. But you also see examples of this in the world at large, such as the rich businessman who hates life so badly he wants to slit his wrists. You know what this is like; you really don’t need me to list any more examples.
You get so caught up in whatever role you are playing, whatever impression you are trying to project to others, that you hope that role will eventually become you, in the same way that Pinocchio eventually turned from a wooden puppet into a real boy. But it almost never works out that way. In the end you eventually get to a point where you become the role, so much so that there is no sense of a you behind the things you do. It is a form of soul suicide, if you will.
We also see it all over the place in American evangelicalism. The evangelical landscape is dominated by huge churches in every city, some of which are regional or even national. These churches go to great lengths to present themselves as growing and successful, because that is what American evangelicalism is chasing. Case in point: Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill out in Seattle, which grew to became one of the largest and most prominent churches in American evangelicalism and ended in a spectacular grease fire at the end of last year.
Another case in point: Perry Noble, who a few years back wrote a little missive defending pastoral practices which play to American evangelicalism’s worst tendencies. I pushed back, contrasting Noble with Eugene Peterson and noting that how we follow Jesus matters, that believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to follow Jesus.
And therein lies my point. Because when your king and the leader of your movement is someone who got himself crucified on a Roman cross and died the worst death imaginable, everything goes out the window. All your chasing after fame, power, status, and recognition in the world’s eyes is finished.
How we follow Jesus matters. When you follow a king who got himself crucified on a Roman cross and died the worst death imaginable, it just doesn’t make sense to follow him according to the ways of the world. It makes no sense that the Jesus movement should be a place for people to seek after power and status and success in all the same ways in which the world pursues those things.