One of Jesus’ Radically Disruptive Statements
by Rick Campanelli
"[S]ome of you they will even put to death…. But not a hair on your head will perish."
Luke 21: 16-19
Imagine going to a doctor and getting a diagnosis like this: "This may kill you. But you will be fine." If you reported that diagnosis to others, they would respond you must have heard the doctor wrong. Or your doctor is crazy. Or you are.
Jesus knew this sounded crazy. But he is pointing his disciples to a reality that they hadn't grasped yet, a reality they and we will need to sustain us in difficulties that surely come.
Jesus is telling those who put their trust in him and follow that they will (not may) face hardships. Even if we do face hardships because we follow him, and even if it comes to the point that those sufferings result in our deaths, Jesus tells us we will be more than perfectly fine. And not just barely survive: "Not a hair on your head will be lost". That's good news, because we are definitely going to die.
Yes, you may lose all the stuff here for my sake, and one way or the other, you will eventually be done with this earthly life, Jesus tells us. But that is hardly the beginning of the story. "I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly."
It isn't coincidental that Jesus said this to the disciples when they were at Herod's grand, recently restored temple. The disciples were duly impressed with its grandeur. Unfortunately this great temple had been built and served by a generation of religious leaders who decided they had to accommodate their Roman occupiers. So this topic Jesus is addressing -- what the world and its institutions offer or can't, and what the world can or can't take away -- was very timely. In fact, as Jesus predicted, only about 30 years later that beautiful temple would be reduced to rubble.
By contrast, only moments before these conversations they had been observing all the rich folks coming by and giving, probably generously, out of their wealth. Surprisingly, Jesus focuses on a poor widow who gave two small copper pennies -- "all she had to live on." What frees her up to be so bold in her giving? Jesus teaches the disciples and us that she knew what many much wealthier people might not – that what she had in this life just wasn't enough to really live on. So she willingly gives it up, because she was putting her hope in something else.
Jesus says we may die, but we will definitely live. To anyone really listening, this sounds crazy. Or it opens the door to a vast reality that explains that whatever else in this world we are tempted to put our trust in, it will pass away. Only focusing on our sure future with him -- "you will surely live" -- can allow us to live completely free from fear.
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Rick Campanelli is teaching at the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He has extensive leadership experience in private law practice, industry, the nonprofit sector and in government service at the U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services, Justice and State. He also seves on the CLS board of directors.