In many ways, Lent, which leads to crucifixion and resurrection, is much more central to Christian belief and practice than Christmas with all its persistent selling and shopping. The Christmas story is one of hope and the dawning of a new day on earth. Lent and Easter are about life and especially the life beyond this life, about the offer of redemption that is there for the taking. Lent is about choice, our choice of how to identify with something that happened 2,000 years ago and its implications.
That leaves plenty of choices for busy life on earth. It seems that God's plan for this part of life is called Free Will. To be or not to be? That is the question. God makes the best course clear, but the “being” is up to each of us.
Six times or so each year, my associates and I hold an intense two days of helping men and women who chose to walk across the bridge from success to significance in midlife (the Halftime Institute). We talk a good deal about the transition from career to calling. The Bible, in both Old Testament and New Testament, declares that every one of us has a destiny, a set of works that are wired into our being one by one individually. It is not only the Bible. In the pre-Christian The Odyssey, Homer described a set of obstacles Odysseus had to surmount in order to reach his destiny to return home. In The Iliad, Achilles was confronted by his goddess mother, Thetis, who tells her son that he has “two sorts of destiny” from which he himself may choose: to live a long life at home without fame, or to risk much, die young, and gain everlasting fame.
More to the point for us are a host of references in the Bible.
From the Old Testament:
O Lord, You have searched
me and known me.
You know my sitting
down and my rising up;
You understand my
thought afar off.
When I was made in
And skillfully wrought in
the lowest parts of the
Your eyes saw my
being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all
The days fashioned for
When as yet there were
none of them.
— Psalm 139
A psalm of David
From the New Testament:
For we are His workmanship,
Created in Christ Jesus for
Good works, which God prepared
Beforehand that we should walk
I, therefore, the prisoner of
the Lord, beseech you to
have a walk worthy of the calling
with which you were called,
with all lowliness and gen-
tleness, with longsuffering, bear-
ing with one another in love,
— St. Paul
Letter to the Ephesians 2:10, 4:1-2
Earlier Paul says we are “pre-destined” which means that each of us has a specific destiny prepared by God before we were born.
BUT, and this is a big “but,” as surely as we have a destiny, we equally have Free Will. Otherwise we would be tin robots. Our role is to discover what that destiny is and having done the archeology to bring it to the surface, it is 100% our choice to accept or reject … to pass or to play.
And, furthermore, since free will gets all of us into various sorts of mischief, our Father who knows us better than we know ourselves, has given us a way out, a kind of free pass if we will just reach out and take it. But, once again, that choice is utterly up to us.
Several years ago, I chose, as a Christmas Season project, to study the Parables of Jesus. Most scholars think there are around thirty of these hypothetical teaching tales. The Parables are morality plays to guide us through the ups and downs of “real life.” Jesus taught two major ways: by His example (“just watch what I do”) and by parables (“the Kingdom of God is like “this story”). These stories made sense to some, were meaningless to others.
I have a challenge for you to make the Lenten Season meaningful and surprising. Obtain a list of Parables. Ryrie Study Bible has thirty in the back. In Wikipedia, you will also find a list of thirty Parables with plenty of interpretive material.
There are, of course, all kinds of fascinating ways to sort through these narratives of human drama. All of them seem to involve a dilemma and a decision. I chose two categories:
- Expectations for results and performance.
- Grace and forgiveness.
I suggest you mark each parable on your list of thirty with either the word Expectation or Forgiveness.
To my delight and astonishment, I found fifteen parables about Expectations, the rules and regulations, for example – the Sower and the Good Samaritan. And I found an absolutely equal number of fifteen parables about Forgiveness, for example — the Prodigal son, the wheat and the tares.
Think of it. The principles for a rich and fulfilling life are made clear in these vivid stories and, what may be even more important, the Prodigal son, which is all of us at one time or another, gets welcomed back into the family with grace and forgiveness and a big celebration. A free pass. All he/she had to do was turn back towards home and say, “I blew it. Will you take me in?”
This way of operating the world blows me away every time I think of it. It is the story of Easter made simple! Welcome home.
Jesus' explanation of why he taught in Parables:
“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”
He replied, “You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them.
“Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it.
“… But you have God-blessed eyes – eyes that see! And God blessed ears – ears that hear. A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.”
— Matthew 13, The Message version