Paradox & Punishment

Have you ever realized something is true but seems ridiculous? For instance, how can the sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuits from my local gas station taste so delicious, but be so bad for me? Why does driving fast feel so fun, but is so dangerous? Why does running after the squirrels on my bird feeders feel good, but then makes me feel so bad?

Or more seriously, why is Lent (the season in the Christian calendar we find ourselves in) so hard but ultimately so rewarding?

In John 18 & 19, Jesus finds himself in front of Pontious Pilate (one of the most powerful people on the planet at that time). He is brought there by a group of people who — I argue — are not bad people but have made a series of bad choices. I think these chapters are full of people who have made (big & small) choices: the soldiers choose cruelty towards Jesus (19:3); the people gathered choose to ignore or couldn’t see God in their very midst (19:6-7); Pilate chooses to refuse the grace Jesus offers him (18:38, 19:12-14); good people choose bad alliances (19:12) . . . on and on.

If you are anything like me, I look at my own choices and see they aren’t always great either (how is that for an understatement!). Lent is the strange and Holy season where we are invited to look at our choices, to look at our lives before God, and see where these choices we make are leading us. Lent is a time of reflection and repentance for where we all get it wrong.

As I look at my very long list of choices I would like to correct, I am occasionally met with that gnawing feeling of guilt. I’m not unlike the guards who chose cruelty sometimes. I sometimes refuse to see God, especially when I have to search. I pass up God’s grace when it feels easier to just keep on. I can make some very bad choices, and in Lent, I repent and then wait on the punishment.

That’s where paradox comes in again. Paradox comes from the Latin word, paradoxum, meaning “statement seemingly absurd yet really true.”¹ The paradox of God’s love for us is this:

even when we don’t always choose God, God always chooses us.

Jesus was well aware of the choices the people around him were making. Still, he went willingly as the sacrificial lamb. Jesus, knowing full well my list of choices, my list of sins, chooses me again and again all the time.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t consequences for our choices. Look around, the world we live in is broken, full of suffering, people hurting each other all the time. I think that is a major consequence of human choices. But greater than our fallibility is Christ’s reliability. God chose us, is choosing us and will continue to choose us for all time and beyond.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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  1. Online Etymology Dictionary. “Paradox.” Accessed March 19, 2018.        https://www.etymonline.com/word/paradox.

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