3rd Sunday in Lent
3 Lent 3.22 “Loving the Schaden…” Luke 13:1-9
One of my favorite poets, up there with Eliot and Auden—John Kenney, in his recent collection “Love Poems (for Married People)” has one called “Couples Counseling (part 4)” Goes like this: “The therapist gave us homework./ Make a list, she said./ Of the things you love/ about each other./ ‘You slurp soup./ That sucking sound/ is killing me./ You say that burping after a meal in China is a/ show of respect for the cook./ I think that’s bullsh…tuff/ Also we live in Chicago.’/ ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’/ you say, laughing./ ‘Perhaps./ But you can put an old dog down and kill it.’/ ‘What’s that?’ you ask./ ‘Oh nothing, honey./ How’s your list?’”
“Couples Counseling, parts 1, 2, and 3” are beautiful, too. Bonnie gave it to me for Valentines day, and I love it. Maybe more than I’m supposed to? So much joy! Maybe there’s a message in it? Hmm. I’m not that analytical. I just let art flow over me.
I can see the poet is inspired (as the best poets are) by Holy Scriptures (there’s one, “Our Love Is Tested in Traffic”, that muses on what Jesus would (or maybe wouldn’t) do, crawling along at 4 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic, cut off by an old woman in a Ford Focus with handicapped plates, that demonstrates a profound engagement with the personality and teachings of our Lord. Don’t know if Mr. Kenney is Lutheran, but I think he’s some kinda Xn!).
“Couples Counseling (part 4)” seems inspired by our Gospel today, which is why I started off with it. You thought “how in the world does that tie in with the Gospel?” Well, it does tie in, beautifully, oh ye of little faith!
People love bad news. Just look at the schadenfreude (pardon my French!) over the Ukraine war. We just can’t wait to share the latest gossip on disaster—whether it’s the Bachelor, Putin, or public health. And the more things change… which is why some folks rush up to Jesus at the start of our Gospel reading today and go:
“Jesus! Did you hear about the tragedy with the Galileans (you’re from Galilee, right? Hope it’s no one you know!) whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices? So horrible! What an awful, awful man Pilate is! We should sanction the living sch…aden out of him and his country to stop these atrocities. Wait. His country is our country, so, nevermind. Hold off on that! We’ll think of another way for him to get his comeuppance!
“Anyway, it was just terrible! They were sacrificing (as all the good Jews do!) and Pilate has some intel that they’re bad apples, and so his goon squad comes and says “You know what kind of sacrifice your God really loves? Human!” And they chopped them up into tiny, little pieces and burned them with their animals. Bless their hearts! Isn’t that just disgusting? Have you ever heard of such a thing? How, do you think, a Good God could allow such suffering and misery, Jesus!”
But Jesus has a little schadenfreude in him, too (hidden depths and different kind of schadenfreude than ours, which we’ll get deeper into, in a sec. It’s a French word, right? Well, anyway; you know what it means: literally, loving the sh… uh, merde (a fancy French word for manure). Anyway, Jesus gives as good as he gets, and goes: “What? You think these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans (like me and my, me and my, me and my friends?) ‘cause they suffered in this way? I tell you, No! But unless you have a serious mind-change, you will all likewise perish.
“Or did you not hear about those 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell? Really a terrible thing, Greg! Do you think they were worse sinners than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No! I tell you; but unless you have a big mind-change, you will all likewise perish.”
Then he tells a little story, the one on which “Couples Counseling (part 4)” is based—I would wager a significant sum—if wagering were something Jesus would do, and honestly, I think he does do; look at the beginning of the book of Job! If that’s not a bet, I don’t know what is! He even doubles down to give the devil a fair chance to win back his money. I like his style.
Jesus gives good disaster (he wrote poetry, too, you know. The Psalms are all ghosted by him). I love his work. Jesus is my favorite storyteller and poet, by far. He goes, with a grin, I’m sure:
“A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard (why the guy plants fig trees next to the grape vines, I don’t know, because I’m not a gardener, but anyway, he’s God, so he must have good reasons) and he came seeking fruit on it and found none (see Mark 11 on what Jesus does when he fails to find fruit on a fig tree—out of season!—He kills it! The disciples are like: whoa! harsh!). Anyway, he tells the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down! Why should it use up the ground?’ The vinedresser pleads, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around and put on some poop (the high grade French stuff’ll surely do the trick!). Then, if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not (like an old dog 😉 you can put it down and kill it.”(!)
See the schadenfreude? (Google thinks it’s not French? Huh. Whatever). Jesus loves the schaden too. But not the way we do. We love to see bad things happen to other people, because it makes us feel schuperior, like it wouldn’t happen to us because we’re so Good and have God on our side who would never do anything schadeney to us, right, because he’s too nice, hates the schaden? (I really don’t speak French, you know 😉
Well, maybe hate is too strong a word? Jesus seems to think there’s no problem that a load of schaden can’t solve! He’s like the vet in the Far Side Vet’s Guide to Medicine for Horses. “Broken leg? Shoot! Bad cold? Shoot! Split hoof? Shoot! Just plain old and belches too much? Shoot!”
Suddenly, we begin to feel uncomfortable with Jesus. “Whaaat? Jesus doesn’t mind if schadeney things happen to me? Might even cause them for some mysterious purpose? No! Say it isn’t so!” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” we say, laughing. “Perhaps. But you know what you can do with an old dog (or a fruitless fig tree)? You can put it down and kill it…”
If that’s not schadenfreude, I’m not sure what is (though, again; my French is pretty weak!). When we love the schaden that happens to other people it’s out of malice and spite. Jesus loves it like a gardener loves a big, stinky pile of schaden (French manure) ‘cause of how it makes the fig trees grow big and strong and fruitful.
Hey, schaden happens, and God loves it—not for what is or how it smells, but for what he can do with it; and what he can do, he shows by his cross. He takes all our sin, all our sorrow, all our sch… aden and dies of it to make us grow up in him, new creations. He shows the love beyond all telling for all people (not just married people) by suffering, himself, the weight of the world’s sin and schaden.
So, I guess, be careful what you wish for? We think Good only comes from sweet-smelling stuff. But fruitless fig trees (and old dogs?) perhaps just need a great, big, heaping helping of fine, French schaden to grow up into Christ’s Image. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.