There comes a moment, when you go whitewater rafting down a turbulent river, when you can’t turn back. The first time the Taylor family tried it, we went on the Maligne River in Jasper National Park.
The guide launched our group on Maligne Lake. As we paddled across the still waters of the lake, he taught us the various commands—paddle forward, backwater, draw to this side, draw to that side.
As we approached the spot where the lake emptied itself into the river, the surface was still glassy smooth. But we could feel a current moving beneath us, carrying us forward.
Then the lake was no longer horizontal. It tipped. The slope got steeper. We could no longer pull out of this adventure, even if we wanted to.
We had passed that point of no return. We had no choice, now, but to plunge down the chute into the welter of foam at the bottom, to carry on to the end, wherever that might be.
This coming Sunday, most of the Christian world celebrates Palm Sunday—remembered as the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He didn’t get an official red carpet, so the crowds created their own carpet by flinging cloaks and palm branches on the road.
I wonder when he passed his point of no return. Was it that Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem? Or did it come later—assuming the usual chronology of the gospels is accurate—when he stormed through the Temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and setting the sacrificial pigeons loose?
Or perhaps it came earlier, when he decided that he could not let the body of his friend Lazarus moulder in the darkness of a tomb.
Or perhaps even earlier, when “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” despite warnings that he would be killed there.
Whenever it was, there came a point where he could no longer back out. He could no longer retreat to the relative safety of the boondocks around Galilee.
If he had stayed in Galilee, he might have attracted a sizeable following, built a mega-church, hired lots of staff, and lived comfortably on tax-exempt donations.
But he didn’t stay in Galilee. At some point, he made a decision. He was going through with this, whatever the outcome.
Did he know it would end on a cross?
The gospel narratives suggest that—but then, they were written anywhere at least 50 years later, when every implication of his words had lots of time to ferment in his disciples’ imaginations.
“Aha!” they would say to themselves, much later, “that must have been what he meant!”
Hinduism might speak about the karma of going to Jerusalem. Each decision committed him to the next action. Once started, the river swept him along inexorably. Past a certain point, there was no pulling out.
As I went down the Maligne River, I felt a mixture of wild exultation and sheer terror. I wonder if Jesus had any similar feelings as he rode into Jerusalem.