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known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns (2)

He [Jesus, AD 33, Galilee] took the twelve aside again...saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be handed over...and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over....they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him. [....] And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.  Mark 10: 32-34, 15: 24


Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote bears repeating in this anxious time for Jersey: “Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.”


The “known known” for Jesus of Nazareth well before Passover in Jerusalem AD 33 was his imminent betrayal, condemnation, handing over to unrestrained soldiers - then mocking, spitting, flogging and death.


Not only did he accept his known known – he organised its fulfilment. He lodged no appeal against lying witnesses or prejudiced court procedures. He arranged his donkey-borne entrance into Jerusalem in humility and weakness. And he was duly murdered on the day he chose – Passover Day – the wrong day for the Jerusalem authorities because it was the national anniversary of Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt around 1350 BC through the death of so many firstborn males throughout Egypt.


It was no coincidence either that the Jerusalem crowd chose Jesus Barabbas the robber-murderer-insurgent to be released. Yes, Barabbas’s first name ‘Jesus’ is twice stated in the Greek of Matthew’s record. And yes, his second name does mean “Son of the Father” – apt names indeed and names that were also known knowns to Jesus in Easter week AD 33.


Those close to Jesus had three known unknowns that week. Do you recall them? They were all me orientated. They were also the “Jersey way”.


·         First risk: “Death is my great problem – it’s not yet is it?”

·         Second risk, “Well-being is my long-term objective, will I succeed?”

·         Third risk, “How will my place in the hierarchy rise – or fall?”


Jesus wanted to teach his key followers something entirely different – he wanted them to know about their unknown unknowns. What were these?


By definition (admittedly Donald Rumsfeld’s definition) they cannot be known. They are unknown unknowns – things likely to hit one out of the blue as it were.


For that reason Jesus had to teach these unknown unknowns (there are three of them) in a memorable way – a way in which they would be discovered by events and sound bites rather than received as finely honed propositions. (Yes, that is how we too discover things in Jersey AD 2009.)


Would you like to attempt to fathom the first unknown unknown in AD 33? It was taught by Jesus by two events, both of which related to the first future risk - about death above.


Taking three disciples with him, Jesus went up a mountain and, whilst speaking about his death, was transformed in front of them into a glorious man whose clothes shone with unearthly whiteness. Two others (both long dead - now alive again in AD 33) joined them. One of these, Elijah, had around 800 BC restored life to a dead boy, the only child of his widowed mother. Is there life after death?


The second event was also about a boy. Down from the mountain a crowd had gathered around a suicidal boy and his father. The boy’s “life” was devoted to his own death. The boy’s father prayed in desperation to Jesus for help. The boy’s life immediately seemed to kill him – but he lived, totally restored by Jesus and no longer suicidal. Life. No death.


This unknown unknown should have become a known known to the disciples. But it didn’t – until after Jesus rose from the dead.


Have you got it?           

‘Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ.’ (Anon.)
‘No philosophy that will not teach us to master death is worth twopence to us’ (J I Packer, Professor of Theology, Vancouver)
Richard Syvret

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