Loser or Genius?

April 8, 2009

Vincent Van Gogh died a complete loser.

You know Van Gogh. He’s the one who painted the sunflowers and Starry Night. He was physically and mentally ill for much of his life. He roommated with Paul Gauguin, another now-famous artist, who journaled about the difficulties he encountered living with Vincent. It was after a particularly vicious fight that a distraught Vincent cut off part of his ear.

Van Gogh, unable to support himself was financially cared for throughout his life by his brother Theo. He began painting just ten years before his death. He produced 900 paintings. That’s an average of just 4-5 days per painting. Plus he produced over 1,000 drawings. And a third of his paintings have paintings underneath them that he wasn’t happy with. The man worked day and night. And then he shot himself at age 37, having not sold a single piece of work. Not even Starry Night had an interested buyer.

Today, Van Gogh is considered a genuis, but he died a loser.

Heath Ledger was an actor of modest talent and fame. He had some good roles, some mediocre, some lousy. By no means a loser, but he certainly dealt with his share of setbacks and personal demons. He was not a considered a genius either. Just average. Then he died an unfortunate death, and everyone went to see him in ‘The Dark Knight.’

Ledger’s portrayal of ‘The Joker’ was applauded as a work of genius.

Niether of these guys accomplished anything more after their deaths. It was only others’ perception of them that changed. Suddenly, people saw geniuses where before were just average men.

None of us will have any control of how people remember us when we are gone. Peoples’ perceptions of us may change for the better or worse, but we won’t have anything to do with that. We won’t be able to add to our life’s resume. What we get done is all there is for people to evaluate us.

The only guy who added to his resume after his death was Jesus.

Some people call Jesus a great teacher. Today, a great teacher is someone who has one doctorate they actually earned, and a bunch of honorary doctorates so schools can put them on their lists of alumni. A great teacher has authored many books, does interviews, conferences, speaking tours.

Jesus taught people, but he didn’t even start writing one single page of a book! He never even told anyone they should be taking notes so they could write a book! ‘Matthew, I’m about to throw down some Beatitudes here, might want to jot this down.’ It took the disciples a few years to realize they really should write that stuff down!

Yes, Jesus was a teacher, but he seemed unconcerned about what posterity would think of his teaching.

Some people call Jesus a healer or a miracle worker. Today, someone who heals others or works miracles or discovers a ‘miracle’ cure gathers crowds of thousands, gets on the Today Show, builds an empire of healing.

Jesus healed some people, and performed some miracles. But most of them were in the presence of just a few people. He sometimes demanded that people keep quiet about it. And he only performed a couple dozen miracles. He only healed a handful of people. An 18th century doctor who put leeches on people could conceivably heal more people than Jesus did! He seemed to refuse to build an empire around his powers over nature.

Yes, Jesus was a healer and miracle worker, but he didn’t seem to see those acts as his purpose in life.

When Jesus died, his friends thought that was it. A great teacher, a great miracle worker was dead. They had been convinced he was the next big thing. Now they were sure he was was not. He would go down in history as a great man who had been unjustly executed. Perhaps history would not remember him at all.

And then Jesus added something to his resume.

It was only after his earthly life was over that Jesus’ very purpose in life became known. That is something that no one else has ever done – achieved their purpose only in death. No one talks about the death of someone at their funeral – we celebrate their life! Because their death is not who they are, or what they accomplished or what they meant to us.

But that’s exactly what we talk about with Jesus. His life wasn’t about teaching, or healing people, or performing miracles. Even before he was born, his purpose in life was to go straight to the cross. And then he could achieve what he was sent to do.

Happy early Easter everyone.