Jesus makes a remarkable claim this week:
Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.
When Jesus said that, the religious leaders around him were stunned. They said that he must be demon possessed. After all, even Abraham died, and Abraham was revered almost as much as God. How could Jesus make such an extraordinary claim? His audience couldn’t accept it.
What do we do with this statement? Does the fact that we all die mean that we’re not obeying Jesus’ word? What about the disciples? They all died. Did they not obey Jesus?
Wendy and I have become hooked recently on the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Religion plays a big part in this fantasy series. There are several different faiths represented: the “old gods” (a nature religion); “the seven;” the “drowned god;” and many others. The picture above is what is essentially a “baptism” into the faith of the drowned god. The phrase that goes along with that ceremony is “What is dead may never die.” The idea is that adherents are symbolically drowned, to keep them safe from harm (this is a very warlike seafaring group).
Of course, I’m not really equating following Jesus with being pirates in some fantasy world. But perhaps we can learn from it anyway. Clearly, Christians do still die. But what about “see death?” Seeing something means looking ahead to it. Maybe, what this means for us is that we don’t “see” death because, for followers of Jesus, we are to see beyond the ending of our physical bodies. What has died (to death) can never die.
Jesus’ words, it seems to me, are all about the kingdom of God. To obey his word is to live for that kingdom. When we live into that attitude, we don’t see our own fate as having any significance. We don’t see death, because it doesn’t register as anything significant. We don’t always live into that ideal, but we have those moments. Few and far between, maybe, but we do have them.