Sunday, October 12, 2008

The ant and the grasshopper

Today, my pastor ended his service with a particularly meaningful anecdote (as pastors often try to do). It went like this:

A parent received a call from their child's school teacher. The teacher said, "I though I should call you about your child. In all my years of teaching I have never had a child do anything quite like this, so I thought that I should let you know." Of course, this is a rather foreboding introduction. The teacher continued, "Every year I use a particular creative writing exercise. I tell the class the story of the ant and the grasshopper. In this story, the ant works all year long collecting food for the winter and storing it. Meanwhile, the grasshopper frolics around and doesn't do any work. When the winter comes, the grasshopper goes hungry, and he begs the ant to share some of his stored food."

"At this point, I usually ask the class to write the ending of the story."

"Your son raised his hand and asked, 'Can we draw a picture instead?' I responded, 'Yes, you can also draw a picture, but first you need to write down an ending for the story.' Now let me tell you, most children write the ending that the ant ends up sharing his food with the grasshopper and they both survive. A few children usually write the ending that the ant says, 'Sorry, you should have worked harder during the year, I only have enough food for myself' and the ant lives and the grasshopper dies... But your son wrote an ending where the ant gave all his food to the grasshopper. The grasshopper lived, and the ant died, and at the bottom of the page were drawn three crosses."

Now my first reaction when my pastor got to the part where the ant had given all his food away was, "This is stupid. Now the ant is going to die. Is this supposed to be a story of how Christians should act? Giving up everything for people who don't deserve it?" But after he had described the crosses on the bottom, I was moved by a twinge of emotion. The ant was Jesus Christ, and he had given up his life and his hard work for another who had done nothing.

It quelled in me an interesting dilemma. There was one day, where I had been reading an online discussion board and someone had written a comment along the lines of, "Your Jesus is not so great. Sure he died on a cross, but lots of people have died more horrible deaths than that. Why would such a death make him special enough to be God?" Now certainly, Jesus is not God because he died; but rather he could die for us because he was God. And yet, we do herald Jesus' death as a great injustice, a great sacrifice that only God could have made.

And so I began to try to rationalize this. Well it is true that many people die more horrible and tortuous deaths than even being hung on a cross. People can be tortured, beaten, maimed, decapitated, burned, bitten, drowned, and subjected to all sorts of other monstrous treatment. But Jesus had done nothing to deserve his death - he was innocent. Yet certainly not everyone who is tortured or treated unjustly deserves it - in fact, most are the victims of oppression, prejudice, and evil. They did nothing in particular to bring about their fate, so then why is Jesus so different? Now internally, Jesus' actions and their implications maintained the solidity of my faith, and yet this question remained filed at the back of my mind for further exploration.

Then came along the anecdote about the ant and the grasshopper, and it was as if someone had opened up a door in my mind. It was not just that Jesus had done nothing to deserve his death, but rather he had done so much good on top of that. He was blameless: he faced down temptation, thought no evil, did no evil, healed the sick, blessed the infirm, and lifted up the downtrodden. In spite of this he was tortured and hung on a cross by his hands and feet to die. And he died, not for himself, not for a friend, not for a group of people or an ideal, but for the people of the world. We, the people, fully deserved our fate. We sin, we fight, we deny God. In fact, oftentimes we laugh in the face of righteousness as we continue to do evil. And yet Jesus Christ, God incarnate, one greater than any of us, more powerful than any of us, more righteous than any of us; he died, and we were allowed to live.

That is what made the sacrifice great. It was not the magnitude of the torture. It was not the fact that he was undeserving of punishment. It was the cause - that in fact he did not need to die, but rather he chose to come and live among us, chose to teach us and guide us, and chose to die for us though we had no right to ask him to. Our souls were begging for the food that he had stored up for the winter, clamouring for him to help us bridge the spiritual disconnect, and he did. That is why our God is an awesome God. That is why he is worthy of praise.

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