Speaking Of Life 1007 | Jesus The Demolition Artist
In 2006 my son played in a high school championship game in what was the Georgia Dome. An impressive indoor football arena where professional football players played over the course of 23 seasons. On Nov 20, 2017, it was demolished to give way to an even more impressive stadium with a retractable roof and the largest halo board of any sports complex – It is the Mercedes Benz Stadium, and it certainly is the Mercedes Benz of all stadiums.
Whether on TV or in person, we’ve all seen demolitions. People usually stand by and observe; there may be a news camera or two. Then an abandoned building jerks and smokes and buckles, quickly becoming a cloud of dust. What had taken years and millions of dollars to put up is gone within minutes. The right specialist can achieve this with such precision that it won’t even crack a window on the other buildings in the area.
One of the most famous demolitions in recent history was the leveling of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis in 1971. Pruitt-Igoe was a symbol of the philosophy of the time, which was called modernism. Modernism held, among other things, that human beings are hyper-evolved animals that simply needed the right conditions to thrive. The idea of a God, or a higher being, was considered passé—as a tool of former oppressive regimes and nothing more. Modernism held that we are rational animals, and our emotional, relational and social needs depended mostly on our physical needs.
The Pruitt-Igoe housing project was an attempt to bring these principles to life. It was to be the best of modern architecture, electrical, plumbing, and other amenities. It was erected in one of the worst neighborhoods in inner-city St. Louis as “project housing.” The residents were moved in, and the country waited to see modernism at work. Within fifteen years, crime, racial tension, and poverty were rampant, making Pruitt-Igoe, the great modernist project, a terrifying place to live and a complete failure.
Many philosophers and thinkers say the symbolic end of modernism was the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe in December 1971. This view of humanity, as one-dimensional beings who only need their physical needs met to thrive, had failed completely. This modernist way of understanding was also at the root of the bloodiest century in human history.
In our lectionary readings for today and the next several weeks, we will be talking about the beginning of Jesus’ career in ministry. Especially in this part of his life, we see Jesus demolishing several ideas about what God’s long-awaited deliverance was going to look like. He didn’t bring about a political or military victory, he didn’t bring about deliverance for only the Jewish people, and he triumphed in his death on the cross rather than a conquest of power. Finally, he invited us to deliverance from sin, not from temporary suffering and pain.
He demolished our human expectations of how we thought God should arrive on the scene. Here he is baptized rather than baptizing, here he is making wine with a miracle rather than something more dramatic, here he is saying that he has authority to forgive sins. He demolishes our expectations as well sometimes, bringing about what we need in our lives rather than always what we want. He calls us to serve and to love rather than a winner-takes-all mentality. He calls us out of our understanding of him, and our understanding of ourselves.
So it is when Jesus, the demolition artist, is at work. Just like the Pruitt-Igoe project which symbolized the end of modernism, so the demolition Jesus did was the end of a flawed understanding of God and humanity. So we see the demolition artist in our own lives, breaking down our old self-protective walls of sin and fear so that the real thing, the new creation, can go up in its place.
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life!