I have death on the brain right now – death and dying. Cheerful thought isn’t it? Actually yes it is. I’m not thinking of death and dying in terms of a terminal illness but rather as a caterpillar might contemplate disappearing into a cocoon in anticipation of emerging one day as a butterfly with wings. Entering an entirely new identity, unbelievably unrecognizable (Is that you?”) – able to fly further than the bush that’s been home since infancy. Imagine if the only way into the Kingdom of God was through a cocoon….? No caterpillars in heaven, only butterflies with faint recollections of being confined to crawling up branches and eating leaves. Heaven begins on earth with outspread wings and the sweet nectar of flowers, floating high in the breeze light as a feather. Would the death of a caterpillar be so bad if it realized this was the gateway to the flight of a butterfly?
Seems to me that many (not us of course) are hoping and praying to pursue relationship with Jesus and be citizens of his kingdom on earth while maintaining a caterpillar persona. It ain’t gonna happen. Caterpillars believe in God and love Jesus, they worship him in massive throngs and songs gathered in holy huddles on branches across the universe. In fact First Caterpillar Chapel Choir is world renowned for it’s harmony, melody, and musical expertise. They gaze wistfully toward heaven and dream of the day they will fly in the sweet bye and bye…. but right now they’d rather not die. Instead they sing songs, dream of heaven, never get to fly, or heal, or live with extraordinary power.
I share deep empathy with the caterpillar angst and mentality regarding transformation and change, particularly when I’m not sure of what life in a cocoon will feel like; will it even work? Butterflies tend not to talk to caterpillars; I’ve no comprehension or insight into what it’s like to rise from the cocoon. With such a degree of uncertainty I prefer to push such mystifying thoughts away from my mind and continue to plod faithfully along the branch I know with worship music pulsating faith from my iPod.
Jesus had this infuriating habit of ruining great opportunities. Some Greeks wanted to meet him and asked Philip who spoke to Andrew who suggested they both go and tell Jesus. He chose that moment to announce his impending departure when he’d be glorified through death. You can almost hear their jaws drop, “Pssst.. can we change the subject, we have guests?” Then he hammers the point home by proclaiming that anyone who’s prepared to lose their life (into the cocoon or die like a seed) will come alive – surprise! Sounds like resurrection or butterflies to my ears. Jesus used the metaphor of a seed falling into the ground and ‘dying’. It disappears from view; as it abides in the ground it bursts into a life that would be impossible if the seed insisted on maintaining control, independence, and identity. “If God wanted me to be anything else he’d have made me different.”
Then I think about Jesus arriving as a baby on earth through Mary his mother. Nine months after conception he was born with God as his supernatural Father. Quite a unique event, a one-of-a-kind child who by the time he was twelve had the capacity to dialogue in the temple with the religious leaders of his day. Imagine being that gifted, hearing the stories of his birth from his mother, feeling the stirring within and becoming increasingly familiar with the tone and resonance of his heavenly Father’s voice? I ponder what it must have been like for the young Jesus as I read Luke’s words: ‘He went down to Nazareth, was obedient to his earthly parents, and grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.’ (Luke 2:51-2) Was Young Jesus too enthusiastic at twelve and ‘jumped the gun’ not realizing ‘his time had not yet come’? Was he ticked off when told to return to the backwater of Nazareth, listen to his mother, and wait?
If I didn’t know better I’d translate Luke’s words ‘he went down to Nazareth’ to mean a handful of years – four or five maybe. But we know different; Luke is describingt the next 18 years! I wonder what that period of time is all about? If God’s in control surely he could arrange for Jesus to be born in the midst of any circumstance and orchestrate events to accomplish his purpose whenever he wanted, couldn’t he? Even beyond that question is the mystery of contemplating what was happening inside Jesus’ heart and mind throughout those years? Is it possible that while it took a normal nine months for Jesus to be born as a human ‘son of man’, to fulfil the calling of Son of God required thirty years of character building? Imagine being gifted beyond your years, with an identity and mission so profound, and having to wait in anonymity and ‘hiddenness’ for that long. Perhaps he simply had to work in the carpentry shop until his brothers and sisters were old enough to take over and support the family (Joseph probably died while some of them were still young). It would be consistent for an incarnational loving God to care and provide for his human family – a servant king.
Would that experience of trust, patience, submission, and faithfulness be similar to a seed falling into the ground, “Father, not my will but yours be done… on earth as in heaven ?” I consider such humility and obedience and it leaves me in utter awe. I want to be recognized and affirmed, I desire my life to have value; meaning measured by what people think of me and financial earnings – I certainly don’t want to wait. Yet I’m attracted to the person of Jesus, the quietly profound integrity of his character and the selfless love manifest in his ‘being in Nazareth’ those many years. Thirty years on earth for three years of supernatural ministry and the willingness to die on the Cross alone caked in blood and vibrating in excruciating pain. The only cry left on my lips emanating from my selfish and rebellious heart is, ‘Lord please help me die more quickly so that I may arise to live more powerfully for you.”
Someone said that Jesus founded the Christian church on Disciples…. those who’d finally given up their personal and private agendas to serve him as Lord. The battle today is that the vast majority of us worship the god of consumerism. Consumers refuse to be committed; they do not die or serve, they stay as long as their needs are met or they move on.
How would you and I answer the question, “Are you a consumer or a disciple?” “Who are you living for and what are you prepared to die for?” My prayer for the New Year is that the consumer in me will die in order that the disciple will arise to ever greater prominence and life – with much laughter and joy amidst the dying-to-live transformation. How about you? Come die, I mean – fly with me! 🙂