Lent 3: The choice to die...

Romans 5:6-11

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Death changes things. Always. Whether it's a tragic death, unexpected, unforeseen, or a death that has been coming for sometime, death caused by terminal cancer or some other life-threatening illness, change is inevitable. It always happens. It changes you as a person, and it changes the relationships between you and others. You can't run from this change. You can't hide from it. And while you may be able to stall it for a brief time, without fail, it still occurs. This is the nature of death.

This change is all the more pronounced when it is a sacrificial kind of death, the kind where one person sacrifices his or her own life for the sake of someone else, especially if that someone else is a stranger. The firemen on 9/11 risking and forsaking their own lives for those trapped within the walls of the World Trade Center. Teachers cowering over the bodies of their students to protect them—teachers at Newtown, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and countless other institutes. Convenience store robberies. Department stores. Banks. The situations in which one person might offer their life for a complete stranger are countless, baffling.

I've never been faced with a situation like this (knock on wood). The most danger I've ever been was when I was four years old and decided to ride a plastic three-wheeler down a steep hill and ended up colliding with a sturdy oak tree four or five times older than me and ended up bouncing back onto the ground, bleeding from nearly every orifice on my head. Needless to say, my mother and grandparents were none too happy with the church friends charged with caring for me that particular day.

I've never had to choose whether to risk my own life for the sake of saving someone else's. And in all honesty, I don't know that, when having such a decision forced upon me, I'd choose self-sacrifice. I don't know that I would be selfless for a friend, much less a complete and total stranger. I don't know that I'd have that kind of courage or tenacity. I don't know that I'd be that kind of man, that good of a man, that loving of a man.

It's interesting that in the passage for today, Paul says, "Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die." Apparently there's a difference between being a righteous person and being a good person. "Oh, he's righteous. I don't think I'll die for him. But this guy over here, he's good. I think I'll consider it." Sounds odd doesn't it.

Being the rhetorician he is, Paul continues his spiral downward. Not only did Christ die for the righteous person. Not only did he die for the good person. He died for us. Sinners. The bottom of the barrel. I won't go into the various theories of atonement or salvation that are related to this passage. I won't talk about blood or torment. But I will say this. There are some days where I look at myself in the mirror and I think, "God, I'm shit. I'm nothing. I'm worth more dead than alive. I never get it right. I mess up all the time." You get the point. The self-loathing and sense of worthlessness goes on and on and on.

Yet somehow, outside of time, Paul includes me, this guy who has no clue why he's here, who is hyper self-critical, as someone who Jesus was willing to jump in front of a bus to save, for whom Jesus was willing to take a bullet. Honestly, I don't get it. It confounds me. It makes no sense that this homeless, Jewish socialist vagabond who lived 2,000 years ago somehow managed to both think of and love me enough to offer up his life in hope that my life would be changed for the better (again, another musical theatre reference). He decided that I was worth saving, and some days, when faced with this reality, I want to walk up to him, poke him in the shoulder with two fingers and say, "What in God's name were you thinking? Me? Really? You're kidding me."

He'd smile. He might not say much. He'd probably not say anything at all. He'd make eye contact, probably pull me in for a hug. I'd feel his heartbeat, his hands on my back. I'd feel the scruff of his facial hair against my skin. And in feeling his chest rise with his breath against my chest, I'd know what he was thinking.

When he was faced with the choice to die for me, for us all, his answer would always be a resounding "Yes." Even in the midst of second thoughts, of doubt, of fear and second-guessing, he would still follow through. Even knowing some of us might not find him all that compelling, might not be seduced by his charm and charisma, he'd still love us enough to die for us.

That's the kind of man I want to be...