JESUS AND ‘THE STUPID CLUB’
As black humour has it, death can be the ultimate career move. There are several people this might apply to, and most of them are rock stars: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana – to name just six. Death is good for recording companies because it boosts downloads; for publishing firms because biographies sell; and for candle makers and florists because fans hold vigils. There is nothing like talent cut down in its prime, bringing out uncritical nostalgia in others. Why else is President John F. Kennedy revered by so many Americans? Had Kennedy lived, I expect disillusionment would eventually have set in, as with other politicians since. But he died early, and so he is revered.
When Kurt Cobain shot himself, his mother said he had gone and joined ‘the stupid club’, meaning the growing band of rock stars who had recklessly wasted their lives. For his mother, Kurt Cobain’s death was not heroic, guaranteeing sainthood; it was thoughtless, shattering relationships – leaving behind a mother, wife and child and thousands of fans who had seen him as an edgy spokesman for a spiritually bereft generation, allegedly dulled by entertainment and dead-end jobs.
As Jesus died on the cross, his friends may have had similar thoughts. This man could seemingly do anything: heal the blind, calm the storm, raise the dead. It would be wrong to describe the death of Jesus as suicide, but there are comparisons. As the net of evil forces surrounded him, he took no evasive action. It looks like he was sacrificing himself in an almost suicidal way.
If the story ended with his death, then it’s fair to say Jesus went on to join ‘the stupid club’, and all the churches do at Easter is to hold a rather sad vigil in memory of a death they wish hadn’t happened. Faith in Jesus is sometimes presented this way. The Faith Zone in the late and unlamented Millennium Dome said of Jesus that ‘he spent most of his life in obscurity and died tragically young’. This prompted David Dimbleby to write a letter to the Times in which he observed sarcastically: ‘I assume this to mean that the Crucifixion was an unfortunate accident, or that had he played his cards better Jesus could have died peacefully in his bed after a successful life as a carpenter’.
Many people believe that three days later he rose from the dead and it was then that something small but significant happened. At first his friends didn’t recognise him, thinking he was a stranger. This is the opposite of what usually occurs when someone you love has just died. Many of us have had that sensation where we are sure we can see the person across the road, only to be disappointed by the realisation that it’s just someone who reminds us of them. But here the friends of Jesus thought they were speaking with a stranger, only to be taken by surprise that it was the man who just hours earlier had been a corpse. Some people imagine they see Elvis because they are willing it to happen; the friends of Jesus had no will power left in them on his death and took a lot of convincing that he was alive again.
Despite this, some people agree with the Millennium Dome that Jesus’ death was tragic, not meaningful. His story has become a stylised tabloid take on a bright life cut short, where certain phrases are used: ‘everyone loved him, always smiling, never had a bad word to say about anyone’. Each of which is untrue of Jesus, as it happens. Not everyone loved him, he wasn’t always smiling and he had bad words to say about a number of people. In fact some people hated him enough to wish him dead and to plot this successfully.
And that tells us something important. Jesus divided opinion and demanded a response. It takes a certain category of person to say they are the way, the truth, the life. And these categories can be reduced to three. You are either deluded, dangerous or deity. Jesus can’t just be a nice man. The people who lived around him got that. It’s sloppy thinking today to make out that Jesus is little more than a bearded hipster with some cool sayings.
If Jesus rose from the dead, then what he said during his life must have been true. That we need to take him very seriously indeed, because it really is God speaking to us. If he didn’t rise from the dead, he can be safely ignored. That summary alone should be enough to make us think the issue through to a conclusion we can honestly live with.
So, I invite us to look at Jesus. Some think of him as just a good and talented man who was unlucky and died young, like a wasted rock star. But I think that’s the easy option. We can be all nostalgic about the past and dream about what might have been. We don’t have to make a response: we can just light a candle on the anniversary. The harder option is to put aside talk of what might have been and to proclaim what is. The death of Jesus alone draws out our pity. The resurrection of Jesus demands a response. We can stop at his death or start enquiring at the empty tomb. It is a choice facing each of us today.
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