Tomorrow we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem; there will be palms waving, songs sung, and celebration, but Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. We are reminded that there is both a connection and a tension between the beginning of the week and the events at the end of the week. Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, only to be betrayed and crucified within a few days. The passage today points us towards Jerusalem and all that will take place there. Jesus is headed to the city even though those who seek to kill him are there; although there have been other experiences of rejection and threat in Jerusalem, still he sets his face and goes. Jesus knows what he will encounter, knowing he will suffer and die; Jesus knows all of this and still he goes. He is on mission with his Father and knows what needs to be done.
What is even more remarkable, Jesus doesn’t hide any of this from his disciples: three times he takes the Twelve aside to tell them what will happen, to warn them of what is coming. Three times Jesus tries to help them understand that the one who suffers is the one who saves. I imagine that while they didn’t fully understand what he was saying, they must have been aware that going to Jerusalem meant death for Jesus, and perhaps for them as well—still, they followed. We are told by Mark that some were amazed and some were afraid, and still they followed.
How often do we know what we need to do and yet we are afraid? How often do we know the next step, the next conversation, the next action that we need to undertake, and yet we hesitate out of fear? How often do we avoid the hard conversations, put off the visits that require extra energy, ignore the issues that stare us in the face, hoping that it will all go away? Jesus modeled for us a different way of being, Jesus didn’t flinch from the pain that lay ahead of him. Jesus didn’t hide from doing what he knew he had to do; rather, Jesus stepped out in faith, inviting those with him to follow but being honest enough to let them know exactly what they could expect to happen. Jesus walked towards his call, knowing what would come, and still they followed.
My favorite definition of the word courage is “doing it scared.” Courage means acting when you would rather be paralyzed, taking one step forward at a time when you would rather run the other direction. Courage means going forward or acting even when your heart is pounding, your hands are sweating, when the panic rises in you—still you step forward. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but being willing to do it anyway. Often, we want to wait to make decisions, act, speak up, or do something until we are “ready” or until we are unafraid, but this waiting gets us nowhere. Jesus invited his disciples to take steps in faith knowing that they didn’t fully understand. On the journey to Jerusalem, they “did it scared.”
Following Jesus as our example, we know we are created to do hard things: meaningful things, deep things, risky things. How often do we shy away from what is truly deep or meaningful or what really matters because we are afraid? How often do we avoid the risk of facing something head on? As in everything else, we have Jesus as our example, for he did not shy away from what would be hard. Like the disciples, Jesus invites us to walk with him and do hard things: forgive, walk by faith, go on missions, share the good news, teach, baptize, tell our stories, and be willing to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We can act in courage, even when we are afraid, because we know that Jesus walks beside us. We can do the hard work of discipleship and reconciliation, because we have a Savior who walked ahead of us and invites us to go with him.