Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters. – Revelation 21:6-7 (CEB)
As we get closer to Easter, the devotion I’m using this Lent (Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter) moves closer to Christ’s crucifixion and our participation in it. From today’s reading:
Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Antichrist has broken open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life. Carefully consider what you promise. (Edith Stein)
Stein focuses not on what we would have done, had we been at the Cross or in the courtyard, but rather what will we do. I suppose this makes sense because revising history is easy. It is easy for me to say I wouldn’t have betrayed Jesus to religious and worldly powers like Judas. I wouldn’t have betrayed Jesus to regular people like Peter. I wouldn’t have locked myself away in fear in an Upper Room like the disciples. No, I would have been willing to die for Jesus, like all the disciples promised but none were willing to do.
But sometimes, death is easy.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. – Genesis 3:4 (NIV)
As I read Stein’s words, reflecting on whether I’d be willing to die in order to be faithful. She describes a scene from Revelation: a battle. And in this circumstance, when “choosing a side” is a real thing, when it is clearly Jesus or the Enemy, I believe I could make the faithful choice. I don’t even know that it would be difficult.
But I don’t think this is the difficult choice.
On the battlefield, as Stein describes and I think Peter envisioned, the terms of death are different from they are when you find yourself living in the suburbs. The choices are real and immediate. They are not ambiguous. In some ways, they have no consequences. But here in the suburbs, in my upper middle-class life, choosing life or death (unfaithfulness or faithfulness) is not so clear and not so definitive.
As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions. – Mark 10:17, 21-22 (CEB)
In my daily life, this battlefield looks more like the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit eternal life. There was so much he was willing to do and so much he was willing to forgo to show that he had chosen the right side.
And yet he walks away.
I think this young man would have been willing to die for God – but he wasn’t willing to die to self. Death would have been easy, had Jesus required it of him and he could have entered into it willingly, on his own terms. But choosing life on the terms of someone else is a much more difficult choice. To continue living when he has given away everything he has. To follow Jesus rather than coming and going as he wanted. These are the more difficult choices.
I don’t like battlefield images when talking about faith – too much war has been waged in God’s name. I don’t think Jesus ever called us to that. But Jesus does call us to choose. For the thousands that give up their lives every year in order to choose faithfulness to Christ, I don’t think this choice is easy. But most of us will never be faced with this choice. Our choice will look more like the young man who came to Jesus asking about eternal life.
And this is the choice that challenges me – not just in the last weeks of Lent but in each day to come. In my daily life, will I be able to be faithful in the daily choices that confront me? Will I be able to let go of my own advantage to seek that of the other – by letting go of my agenda and truly listening to the counsel of others? Will I be able to go where God calls me or will I choose to go my own way – accepting the risk of failure or embarrassment? Am I willing to be generous with my time, talent and treasure – or will I compare myself to what others give and conclude it’s good enough? Could I let go of everything if asked? Can I really die to self?
If the world was in flames, I think these decisions would be easy. But in the suburbs, the world is rarely in flames. But the decisions are just important. May Jesus, who looks at us and loves us, lead us in the way everlasting.