Payment for Sin? Or A New Vision?

Yme Woensdregt

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about a different vision of the gospel. When you ask most Christians in North America these days why they are Christian, they will say something along the lines of “Jesus came to die to pay for my sins.”

I respectfully disagree. As I’ve written, the gospel Jesus and Paul preached is not about Jesus dying for my sins. It’s about proclaiming the kingdom of God. It’s about living out God’s love in the world. It’s about making a commitment to living in such a way that we show our loyalty to God’s gospel ways in the world.

The thing is that when we live out of that sense of loyalty to God, the powers–that–be in the world will be threatened. They will seek to get rid of us … as they did when they executed Jesus. But the power of the gospel is such that life will always have the last word. Jesus was willing to pay the price of crucifixion in order to remain loyal to God. In that light, the resurrection is the church’s faith that God vindicated Jesus. Life triumphs, even in the midst of death.

A few months ago, a friend of mine tried to write about this in a story form. I have tinkered with it a little bit … but I think it gets at what I’m trying to say. The analogy to the story of Jesus is not complete. But there are enough connections to make it a worthwhile piece for reflection.

“In a certain city, there a certain gang controlled everything. They were in charge. They got what they wanted. They didn’t care at all about other people. They took what they wanted. They were ‘the law’.

“Two young lawyers, John and Josh, objected. They tried to reason with the gang. They pleaded with them and tried to make them understand the suffering they were causing. But their efforts were useless.

“Finally, the gang had enough of these lawyers and they threatened them. But the lawyers were fearless. Instead of hiding, they went public. They talked about the gang and their violence on TV and radio. They tweeted and texted and showed pictures on facebook.

“So the gang killed John.

“Instead of hiding in fear, Josh became even more determined and outspoken. He called them wicked and brutal. He continued to make their actions public. So the gang tried to kill him too— but failed. Finally, public opinion began to turn against the gang. People were inspired by Josh’s courage. They joined his crusade and began calling for justice.

“Josh continued to receive death threats—letters, phone calls, online threats. “You’re going to pay for this!” And one day, the gang made good on their threats. They abducted Josh and tortured him. They taunted him, but to no avail. They killed him in the most gruesome way they could imagine, enjoying their revenge.

“The only problem was that the gang didn’t enjoy it quite as much as they had anticipated. Josh didn’t react as they expected. He didn’t scream. He didn’t beg for his life. He didn’t promise to shut up.

“All he did was to pray. ‘Father forgive them; they don’t have a clue what they’re doing.’

“And the gang members thought, ‘What a wimp! Good riddance!”

“The story leaked to the press. The details of what had happened became public knowledge. As more people began to see and talk about what John and Josh had tried to accomplish, they imagined a new way of living. They could see themselves standing up to evil, and helping the helpless and impoverished along the way. The media reported the story, and the news spread. Speakers held rallies to talk about non–violence and social justice and looking out for each other. Small groups of people sprang up here and there to help the marginalized and minority groups.

“The gang also grew. They tried to get rid of John and Josh’s followers, killing them and frightening them, and chasing them out of the land.

“One day, the ruler of the land heard about this situation. She was moved by the story of John and Josh, and she declared that their followers would be the inspiration for all the other citizens of the land. They were now under royal protection.

“The followers of John and Josh came to be known as protectors of the poor. They spoke up for those who had no voice. They encouraged others to be generous in caring for the marginalized.

“They still faced persecution. The gang was still strong. But slowly life began to change. New values were honoured by the public. New ways of caring for others became more attractive. A new vision of life was promoted—and while not everyone saw the value of it, more and more people began to understand that life lived this way was healthier and more whole than the old life of fear and wariness.

“It would be nice to say that John and Josh’s followers lived happily ever after—but the struggle continues. But now, there is a meaning and purpose to the struggle that wasn’t there before.”

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

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