To go the distance

Lent takes us not to Easter but to Palm Sunday. Easter is in God’s hands; Palm Sunday is in ours. In Easter, we celebrate what God has done; on Palm Sunday we must choose what we will do. Will we commit to taking the last decisive step to fulfill our part of the covenant God has made with us? Our example for this is Jesus.

Jesus is our example because on Palm Sunday he followed the way of life he had chosen – or that had chosen him – to its necessary conclusion. When he encountered opposition, he could have taken a softer line or gone elsewhere. He could have settled for a respectable life in the country, one that didn’t unsettle the status quo and provoke the religious and political authorities. He could have chosen to marry and raise a family, earn a modest living as a carpenter, become a pillar of his community and synagogue.

But on Palm Sunday, Jesus chose to practice what he preached all the way to where it would lead in the end. He spoke often of the need to choose full commitment to living in God’s will and surrendering to it completely, and on Palm Sunday he chose just that. He took the final steps to Jerusalem, the heart of religious and political law, where all that was good and all that was negative in his people’s way of life, everything light and dark, was centered – steps from which there would be no turning back.

Jesus had seen deeply into life. In the company of beasts and angels, he was tested in a wilderness of hard choices (Mark 1:12-13) and came to know it was his choices that would define who he would be, far more than his charisma or abilities or teachings. It was his choices throughout his life that would clarify his deepest values and reveal to his disciples, and even to himself, who he was. And it was his choices that would create the light or dark world in which he lived, his heaven or hell on earth. He knew it would not be enough simply to accept the fact of God’s covenant; he would have to embrace it and make it the reality that would define his life and govern all the choices life would call on him to make.

If you live with the gospels long enough, you’ll come to see them not merely as stories of Jesus’ life and teachings. They are stories of the journey of faith every one of us travels. They are stories of how we are given Holy Spirit and the blessing of God’s affirmation; of how we are tested in the wilderness of hard choices to see what we’re made of; of how our deepest values are clarified and revealed in the choices we make; of how faithfully we will choose to be shaped by God’s will; of whether we will choose to take up our cross daily and follow the example of Jesus and the way of life he modeled.

So Palm Sunday is not really about Jesus and his final entry into Jerusalem. It’s about you and me and how – or whether – we will choose to follow our journey of faith to its necessary completion. Will we go all the way with it, or will we choose a sidetrack of softer, more comfortable options. What will it look like for each of us to surrender our own wills into the will of God in every daily choice we make?

So much depends upon our choices. There are some similarities between my situation and yours because they are generally human situations. They also have unique aspects, so our choices must also be unique to each one of us. No one can make them for us or suggest how we ought to make them. As Paul wrote, all of us must work out our own salvation in harmony with God working in us (Phil. 2:12-13). Every time I face anything in life, there’s an instant in which I can choose how to respond. The author Roy Bennett affirmed, “Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”

I would go further. Whether your actions embody justice is a choice. Whether you buy clothing or household items only from suppliers that pay their employees a livable wage is a choice. Whether in the voting booth you support candidates who support basic health care for all is a choice. Whether you put your retirement savings only in socially responsible investments is a choice. Whether you confront our shared heritage of racism and white privilege, even in the church, is a choice. Every routine daily decision you make in life is a choice, whether you will surrender to God’s will or assert your own. And there are countless more. Just remember what Roy Bennett said. “Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”

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