When you head out for an errand or a trip and you consider where you are going, do you think of the compass points (north, south, east, west)? Or are you oriented to your body (right, left)? Perhaps you go in the direction you've gone for so many years you no longer have to think at all! Or perhaps you look for landmarks... until they change... and even then you refer to what was once at the corner of this road and that street!
A friend once used a funny expression to describe the challenges of another friend: "He couldn't find his way out of a paper bag!" Not very kind. But kind of accurate. There simply are some of us who are directionally challenged!
But then again, we are all directionally challenged. We are summoned to go in certain directions in life. We are encouraged to go this way and not that. Think for a moment. Do we not sometimes visualize giving credit to God for some good fortune by pointing UP? Or if we are really in need of prayer, won't we say we should get DOWN on our knees? And if we truly desire to fulfill God's will, aren't we always ready to GO? Around the corner or over to a neighboring state or halfway across the globe or down the street or up the hallway to help someone? Isn't this an important command from Jesus? We call it the "great commission": "Go and make disciples of all nations..." (Matthew 28:19). But where do we go? In which direction are we to head?
As this Sunday recalls the beginning of Jesus' ultimate showdown with the religious and political leaders who were threatened by him - usually referred to as his "triumphal entry" - it is often said that he "set his face TOWARD Jerusalem." That directional expression suggests a determination, an intention to remain faithful to God and true to himself and his purpose on earth no matter what. He accepted the challenge of heading in the direction of a potentially stormy future without turning away. Rob Bell describes this resolve on Jesus' part as his choosing "the path of descent." We of course know that he accepted a fate that included an ascent UP to Golgotha (the Place of the Skull). It was visible for miles and for a reason. To get a message across: don't mess with the Romans! Such torture was reserved for slaves and insurrectionists. In his book Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Bell writes, Jesus "comes into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a horse, with children, not soldiers, weeping, humble. And he dies, naked, bleeding, thirsty, alone."
This direction flies in the face of a culture that celebrates success as climbing UP a corporate ladder or moving UP in rank or being promoted to UPPER management. But we're not surprised. Before Jesus crept up that hill under the weight of that cross, he got DOWN on his knees to wash his disciples' feet. A servant's task. Headed to a slave's death. And as we follow the path he willingly walked, we too are challenged to choose that downward direction, serving in humility. Are we up for that?