By Anthony Casperson
A group of travelers came across the heroes of the story. These travelers claimed to be in need of allies. Their leader appeared earnest. Friendly, open, forthright, his charisma flowed freely.
As the party of heroes showed a bit of interest in aiding these travelers, the charismatic leader began introducing his group. There was his longtime friend and confidante, a female with elemental ancestry, who nodded shyly as she quickly returned to tinker with her pet project. The next was the beautiful, yet stand-offish, friend…uh, ally?…of the group who was there for more mercenary reasons. Her leathery wings keeping her even farther removed from the others. The third was the rakishly handsome jokester elf who thought himself quite the ladies’ man. And rounding out the group was….
As the charismatic leader looked around for his friend to conclude introductions, the jokester cried out, “Where has our mighty warrior gone to?” A deep, bass voice came from the surroundings, chiding the elf. It continued by scolding the charismatic leader for being far too trusting. But since the surprise of his existence was lost, the warrior stepped out from his self-imposed stealth mission.
The brute continued his rumblings of distrust, clothed in a loincloth, with belts strapped across his muscle-bound chest. Wielding a pair of axes larger than he was, out from the shadows walked the…gnome. Standing at roughly two and a half feet, most weapons would be larger than he was, other than maybe a dagger.
This is how I introduced some allies to my players in our D&D game.
While trying to figure out how to come to this point, I thought about how strange a gnome barbarian was to the game system. And so, in my attempt to play up this strange juxtaposition of character, I decided to subvert expectations in my players.
Typically, when we think of a deep-voiced, muscle-bound, loincloth-wearing, warrior wielding twin axes, our thoughts go to some huge, beefy tank of a being. The very last thing in the world that would come to our heads is a short, little gnome. Our thoughts of gnomes include tricksters with wild and squeaky voices.
But in taking the point of subverting that expectation, I amplified the moment, even while showing that not everything lines up with our preconceived notions. Sometimes our worldview needs to be challenged because we see things from a limited point of view.
While numerous other stories have utilized this subversion of expectation to enhance similar moments, one that we often forget comes in the shape of a cross.
In John 12, we see Jesus raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. He rides into the city on a donkey and people cry out to God asking for salvation. They see Jesus as the Messiah who will rescue them from their plight. His enemies seek their moment to strike, but crowds surround him.
Some people who follow the beliefs of Judaism, even though they hail from Gentile lands, come to Jesus asking to see him. Jesus responds that it is time for him to be glorified, it is time for him to die. This was his mission, to fall like a seed, be buried, and bring life to others. He asks that the Father glorify himself in this sacrifice, and the Father responds verbally from heaven.
The people gloss over that whole death part as they stand amazed at the voice of God. And Jesus continues to speak of his moment of glory, his time of being lifted up. He’s using the language of lifting up subversively. He speaks of glory and being lifted up, but what he means is being lifted up and killed on the cross.
The moment of glory, the place where God draws the attention of all creation, is a death. But how can defeat be a victory? How can death bring life? How can the most painful style of execution known to humanity bring glory to the one hanging from it? The crowd asks in verse 34 how this death can be true. They believed the Messiah would remain forever.
Their expectation had been that the Messiah would free them from the oppression of the Roman Government, but what Jesus was saying is that his glorious act of salvation would come through the execution of the lowest order in that same system of government. It didn’t make sense.
We forget that the cross didn’t meet anyone’s expectations. No one would ever imagine that the God of the universe would enflesh himself in humanity to die in what appeared to be a defeat. No one had dreamed that in being raised from the dead, he would come to have victory, not over our physical oppressors, but our spiritual oppressors. He was lifted up to show the victory over sin and death.
People who talk about theology often speak of the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom, but I think it shows more the subversive nature of the kingdom. We have expectations for many various things in our lives, but that is based off of what is common in our experience. It’s not based off of what God knows to be true.
So, maybe what we need is a new set of expectations. To see the world, not as a human does, but as God does. Our losses might be exactly what needs to happen to bring God glory. And he will lift us up in his time.