The 40 days of Lent – the widely observed Christian season of penitence and reflection – confronts those who participate with the value of choices, and their costs.
The hardest choices require not only following Jesus Christ, but fully understanding that participating as a disciple places all at risk of confrontations with the powers of this world seeking to displace the kingdom of God ushered in with the life of Jesus.
Followers of the Way, as the earliest Christians understood their faith, always leads to Jerusalem, which is the way of testing, decision and standing up to worship of the status quo.
We are required to ask why Jesus chose to cross all the lines and exceed all the barriers of custom, convention and religious authority.
Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author says in his book, “What Jesus Meant” that Jesus “walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs. People and practices other men were required to shun he embraced with an equanimity that infuriates the proper and observant in his culture.”
Wills says the answer to the question is that Jesus meant to teach the lesson that “people should not be separated into classes of the clean and unclean, the worthy and the unworthy, the respectable and unrespectable. He has told his followers that they are privileged, since they enter into a new intimacy with the Father … whose love is undiscriminating and inclusive, not gradated and exclusive. … His followers are not to aspire to the social register, but to seek out the forsaken.”
Everything in the message of Jesus calls us to decide, and to act, usually in radical difference from our perceptions up to the point of encounter with Christ.
Jesus took on the worldly authorities who sought to dominate, enslave and exploit people. The choice involved real and visible powers and authorities capable of doing great harm with determined resistance.
The choices Jesus made were not just about unseen spiritual forces but political structures and the people at the top of them – civil and religious – who used religion and claimed divinity for their own advancement.
“The Way is not about how to get to heaven … but a path to transformation this side of death,” says the writer and scholar Marcus Borg.
“In shorthand: Jerusalem was the place of direct confrontation with the domination system of (Jesus’) time – the place for death and resurrection, with its twofold meaning: as a metaphor for internal transformation; and, as the place of execution by the imperial (Roman) domination system, and vindication by God.”
Following the Way has never been the easy path to anything.
A prayer of Bernard of Clairvaux in the 11th century offers strength for those on the Way:
“Wherever you go, I will follow you. If you pass through fire, I will not flinch, I fear no evil when you are with me. You carry my griefs because you grieve for my sake. You passed through the narrow doorway from death to life, to make it wide enough for all to follow. Nothing can ever now separate me from your love.”