Jesus impresses me in a lot of ways, but perhaps none-so-much as His obedience unto death. “Not my will but yours”… who says that?! The Son of Man – that’s who. The one who sets aside his privilege and takes on the form of a slave. The one who does not accept the devil’s kingdom but fasts into the hunger of all who seek the righteous kingdom. The one who rejects the sword but accepts the spear into his own side. That one.
Jesus had a particular way of shirking effectiveness. Perhaps he needed a ministry consultant. Maybe then he would have seen that he could have been far more effective if he established a headquarters, trained fundraisers, strategized his mission, and worked with the Jews in power. But from the moment he delivers his first sermon in Nazareth (see Luke 4), he seems to be utterly unconcerned with campaigning for the popular vote. When at last he reveals his grand plan – to die at the hand of the Jewish politicians – and Peter rebukes him for committing political suicide, Jesus responds by saying, “Whoever wishes to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for My sake will find it” (see Matt 16).
Now, I’m not saying Jesus’ death wasn’t efficacious; I’m just saying Jesus wasn’t concerned with being effective. He didn’t do what he thought would prove the more successful outcome; he did what he saw the Father do (cf. John 5:19). We might say that faithfulness seemed far more important to Jesus than effectiveness.
One of the problems with modern work is the persistent need to control outcomes. The farmer, though he had his part, was always aware of his finitude. He lived by the mercy of the land and the sky. No rain. Early rain. Late rain. Flooding. So many factors beyond his control. Superstition became his way of controlling the outcome. But modern man is too clever for that. Or so we think.
“I wish I had worked more,” said no dying human ever. Yet, here we all are, working our fingers to the bone, hoping we’ll have more in the end. We’re building our businesses and furthering our careers, and in the end, they’ll all amount to dust.
Of course, there is work that ultimately matters – work with real significance. Paul says, in the end, our work will be “revealed by fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). Some work will actually be rewarded.
But the vast majority of our work is emptiness, and the bulk of our business is simply busy-ness. We’re all trying to build a better version of Babel. In the 1800s, the American economy was built on black slavery. Today, the American economy is built on sexual exploitation, migrant workers, and economic violence toward foreign nations. Churches are far more concerned with the organizing of “human resources” than the living Body of Christ. We ourselves are more interested in having houses, and cars, and TVs, and iPhones, than having virtues and relationships. Everything has, it seems, become a means to an end. And the irony is that the end looks nothing like what we had hoped.