A little boy saw somebody walking two dachshunds on a leash. He asked his mother, “Is that person walking two dogs shaped like wieners, or two wieners that look like dogs?” His mother, seeing the dachshunds in a new light, answered, “Well, dear, I guess it’s just a pair-o-dachs.”
The dictionary defines a paradox as that which is seemingly contradictory but nonetheless true. “Nobody goes to that restaurant. It’s too crowded.” That’s a paradox. Obviously people go there or it wouldn’t be crowded. But knowing this, people stay away.
When Christians talk about the cross, we talk about paradox. G.K. Chesterton said there are two kinds of paradox: the fruitful and the barren. The cross is a fruitful paradox. It sets us to thinking lofty thoughts. But is it absurd to claim, as Jesus did, that crucifixion is an antidote to death? Are we foolish to nod in agreement that “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”? (John 3:14). That death leads to life? It’s a poison pill to swallow.
Sometimes a poison pill is good medicine. A few summers back, a friend of mine was bitten by a rattlesnake. At the local hospital he was injected with anti-venom and-lucky guy-lived on with a rattling good tale to tell. Anti-venom is made of venom milked from the poisonous snake. It is diluted and injected into a sheep or horse or goat. The animal’s immune response produces antibodies, which are then harvested and used to fight off snakebite. The cause of potential death becomes its own antidote.
Through the cross, Jesus showed us that death leads to life. What Jesus showed us is contradictory, but nonetheless true. According to 1 Corinthian 1:23, the cross is foolishness and wisdom, a sign of weakness and a symbol of strength, an instrument of shame but a symbol of victory. The cross is a paradox. So is anti-venom.
During the month of September each year, Canadians participate in 3, 5 and 10 km runs to support the Terry Fox Foundation. More than 30 years after his death, we are still moved by his courage and self-sacrifice. But why, against such difficult circumstances, did Terry Fox attempt to run across Canada? His cancer had been treated. He was living an active life despite an artificial leg. He had looked deeply into the eyes of the serpent that had infected him and was healed. Did he not realize his efforts might contribute to the recurrence of cancer?
For some people, like Terry Fox, it’s not enough to be the recipient of healing. They want to go further and become agents of healing. For some people, it’s not enough to be the beneficiaries of Jesus’ death on a cross. They want to go further and, like Jesus, become agents of God’s healing power. We are meant to bear witness in our own lives to the healing that Jesus brings.
But another paradox-a barren one-is this: when we are most enjoying life and health and strength we forget the healing we have received. None of us would ask God for an experience of hardship to help us get in touch with our compassion. Nobody wants to go to the cross to become like Jesus. But sadly, in the middle of our day, when schedules are full, we easily overlook the important while attending to the urgent. Time is limited. So why not use it to become like Jesus? It’s not absurd. It is seemingly contradictory but nonetheless true. It’s the path that leads to life.
Kevin Dixon is dean of the diocese of Huron and rector at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Ont.