Christianity is for losers

A Society of Winners

We are a society of winners.

Much as we might profess an appreciation for underdogs, it’s the favorites we put our money on. From sports to politics to, yes, religion, ours is a culture where we herald the handsome and idolize the successful. And understandably so. Who doesn’t like winning?

These thoughts came to my mind, though, as I reflected on a recent viewing of The Passion of the Christ.

This was the first time I saw the movie since it came out in 2004. How much of the film I actually saw I cannot say: many parts I could not help but look away. Which is fitting, given the subject.

Isaiah puts it this way:

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53.3).

I could not help but hide my face. Many have discredited the film for its gratuitous violence. When I first saw it I remember my own reaction being, “Couldn’t there be less of Jesus’ blood and guts and more of His words and deeds?” Sure, Jesus died on the cross—but that wasn’t all He did, right? There was also a lot of inspiring teaching and incredible miracles, weren’t there?

Of course. Yet the Gospels themselves would turn our attention there—to the suffering, to the blood and guts. We have scant material from Jesus’ childhood, nothing from about age 12 to 30, and but a few chapters’ worth of material from His three years of active ministry.

What we do have, however, are painstakingly detailed accounts of his death. What theologian Martin Kahler said of the Gospel of Mark is true of all the Gospels: “A passion narrative with an extended introduction.”

Against American Jesus

Watching the vivid events of The Passion, you can’t help but start to feel an uncomfortable dissonance between the Jesus of the Gospels and the religious figure who goes by his name in much of American Christianity.

Jesus is often portrayed as the self-help guru, the one who will help you become healthy, wealthy, and wise. I am against none of those things per se, but I have serious reservations about enlisting Jesus in the project. His expressed purpose was to suffer and to die, and He regularly warns His disciples to expect the same.

What Jesus might get you is persecuted, or killed, and He almost certainly won’t help you win any popularity contests. In short, He looks like a loser.

Kiss of death?

Who wants anything to do with a losing Lord? Who subjects themselves to a suffering King? Yet I will make no bones about it: Christianity is for losers. Jesus came for the burnt-out, broken down, beaten up, and bedraggled. He came, to use Brennan Manning’s memorable term, for ragamuffins. And you know what? Praise God for that.

Because in a world that prizes winners and casts aside losers, the gospel is more needed than ever.

Our Lord Jesus is the friend of sinners. The poor in spirit He pronounces blessed. And He is the Great Physician—not for the well, the ones who have a closetful of trophies and a bill of good spiritual health, but for the sick: the washed up, worn out, losers.

The resurrection does not so much change this as transfigure it, for now we see that losing is the true path to victory, even as death is the prelude to life.

One look at the cross can convince you of that.

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