The long white line

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this’” (Matt. 21:10)?

The actors are in their places, the musicians are poised with their instruments, the conductor’s baton is raised. Everything is ready for the curtain to rise. Even the audience is ready, or so we like to think.

The first Broadway show I saw was A Chorus Line, in the early 1980s. There was no curtain at the beginning of the show. We sat down before a dimly lit stage marked only by a long white line, where most of the action would take place. Everything would be played out around that line – the anxious auditions; the deflation of arrogance; the loss of dreams; the resolution of stories set in motion long years before; the continued wrestling with relationships; the final triumphs. And through it all, there was that long white line, where everyone had to stand or fall.

There’s a long white line in today’s gospel reading, where everything is going to be put to the test, where everything will be at stake. Jesus has seen it coming from the moment after his transfiguration when “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), where he knew the final act of the drama would be played out.

It would be easy, I think, if he knew what awaited him in the final scene, but I’m not so sure he did. His looming death was still so real, perhaps he mainly wanted to avoid it, pleading to God later that week for a way out (Luke 22:42), and finally wondering why God had abandoned him (Mark 15:34). But at this point all of that is out of sight. There’s only the long white line, and the question people are asking, “Who is this?” Who will he show himself to be?

But the story is not really about Jesus, of course; it’s about you and me. The stage that was set for Jesus is also set for us. The long white line is there for us. And the question is not who will Jesus prove to be, it’s who will we prove to be?

He could have been someone else, someone who kept going. In the garden Thursday night he could have gone over the hill and avoided the whole bloody mess. He could have lived out his days quietly and comfortably in some obscure village, taking care of himself pretty well. The story would have ended quite differently.

Instead, he made the difficult, defining choice, putting everything he had and everything he was into his commitment to the center of his values, embodying those values without compromise. He poured his entire self into the role God had assigned, the role he knew would be the death of him. Maybe he knew that was the only way to be truly alive, to be truly whole. And in the end, when the auditions were over and the house lights finally came up, there he was, new costume and all.

Our world is changing today. It has already changed profoundly from the world we knew a generation ago, even a decade ago. The sense of the community, in which we knew our neighbors intimately, has largely disappeared, and we’re feeling its loss even as we search for what will replace it. We need to rediscover our center of values, around which a good life can be organized – to reassert our center of values is more like it, for they are the values of love and relationship we have long professed in our faith, and they have become weak and hidden.

We need those values today, the world needs them, and who but we will make them known again? Avoiding the changes that swirl around us won’t keep things the way they have been, and backing away from difficult decisions won’t provide a detour around the hard choices that will define who we are. The stage is set, and the long white line is there before us. Who will we prove ourselves to be, in this place, today?


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