By Ward Shope
I once read or heard that you can tell how wealthy someone is by the number of options open to them. Intuitively, we know this is true. My “ride” can be more comfortable, more acoustically refined, more sophisticated in appearance and bear the emblem that testifies to a certain station in life – if I have the means. Otherwise, I could be riding the bus.
However, options are not always about luxury. In Western culture, options are a way of life. Last night I purchased a watch. I had to make the following decisions: how deep I can hold it under water, how long the battery lasts, whether it can time my soft-boiled egg, how stylish it is, how many years it’s programmed for, how much I can abuse it with no damage.
Or, on another note, in my free time, I can: go for a walk, read a book, listen to music, play a game, watch a movie, clean out a closet, and tweet. And this only scratches the surface. (How could I ever be bored?)
Options are akin to freedom for us. We feel we should be free to choose. We ought to be offered choices, and if we’re not, someone should think up a few. We’re convinced that there is some correlation between the number of options we have and the happiness of the life we live.
Which really doesn’t say much for Jesus. (How did he stop from being bored?) In the gospels, he only chooses where he goes, who he spends time with, and what he prays for. Yes, he also tells stories, and hangs out at parties with sinners and tax collectors. But in the end, he is arrested, mistreated, and crucified. On the options scale, he’s pretty near the bottom – which according to our culture means he wasn’t very free and probably didn’t have a great time in this life.
And yet, he doesn’t come across as unhappy or paralyzed by life as we often are. He’s not anxious, stressed out, and baffled by life. He has a clear sense of purpose. He concentrates on relationships, influencing the way people think about God and others, investing the resources in his possession to help others build intimacy with the Father – so that we also might have purpose, meaning and the sense of a significant eternal role in the universe.
One of the clear choices he makes is to lay down his life for others – a choice to limit his option of longevity and freedom. That choice provides us the only option for an everlasting life which will surely satisfy and fulfill us.
Was Jesus happy? Maybe he just had something better than happiness.
We live in a culture that offers us more and more options – and the promise of something better along with them. We can’t isolate ourselves from that. But after considering the options and the life that Jesus lived, most choices presented to us seem rather trivial at best, and probably distracting at worst. Making the one choice to follow him seems to be the best one.