Walking the short distance from the Graha Niaga building in central Jakarta to Grand Lucky supermarket, a trio of Indonesian teenagers approached me, one of whom was wearing a shirt inscribed with the slogan, 'A Life Well Wasted'. I often see Indonesians wearing clothes emblazoned with English words which, in many cases, they cannot pronounce nor understand.
A Life - Well - Wasted? Can any life be wasted - well?
The question seems nonsensical, even juvenile. Wasted? Of course! Well wasted? Absurd! Teenagers might be convinced this creed could be true, but no mature adult would say that a well wasted life is a genuine human hope. Life can be wasted. Opportunities lost. Talents squandered. Relationships abused. Many people live with 'if only' echoing back across their life.
And yet penetrating deeper into the slogan, might we hear words of redemption and not regret? Might 'a life well wasted' be core to Christian living? Jesus calls Christians to die so they can live; to give up that they might gain; to bow down that they might be lifted up. Such a creed runs counter to everything contemporary society sees and seeks for. Happiness without holiness; success without suffering; power without principle, love without faithfulness are all signs that a stupidly secure world considers Jesus' offer as the truly wasteful life. But Is it?
Come with me to Machaerus, Herod the Great's prison fortress, built into a naturally prominent hill overlooking the Dead Sea and where John the Baptist was arrested and later beheaded. The local name, al-mishnaqa, "the gallows", reminds us of the prison's notorious past. A sharply twisting road winds through the cavernous Jordanian wilderness to the top of the imposing fortress. Now come to a cave at the base of the hill to consider John the Baptist's plight. Few people have the courage to tell the truth in the presence of powerful people. John did. "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" he told the Tetrarch and for this he was imprisoned.
John had earlier proclaimed confidently that Jesus was the savior of the world. Now, after months spent languishing in prison, John doubts. "Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" to which Jesus replies to John's disciples, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me."
The angry arrest, the ambiguous answer and the axe were all appointed by Jesus. There was no stay of execution and no escape for John. The man of the wilderness, confined in a cave, loses his head. John is dead. Not for John a long life or easy retirement. Is following Jesus worth this waste? Would it have been better for John to apologize to Herod for offending him about his adultery, procure a pardon and leave prison to continue his preaching ministry - only this time without integrity? John knew the truth, told the truth and bravely faced the end true to God.
Jesus said, 'Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it?' Herod saved face but John was saved. John was beheaded on Herod's birthday but the greatest gift belonged to John.
God's love is always prodigal but never wasteful. It is always prodigal but never profligate. If what the world considers wasteful is our greatest gain, then choose Jesus' well wasted life, no matter the cost or consequence. 'Waste' your life on Jesus and you inherit the kingdom of God.