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In the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin is at school, and his teacher is attempting to teach the class. She begins, “If there are no questions, we will move on to the next chapter.”
“I have a question,” Calvin says.
“Certainly Calvin, what is it?”
He asks, “What’s the point of human existence?”
The teacher responds, “I meant any questions about the subject at hand.”
“Oh,” said Calvin. “Frankly, I’d like to have the issue resolved before I expend any more energy on this.” (From Calvin and Hobbes, March 3, 1992.)
Cousin Janie and I were discussing the Gospel reading this week in preparation for writing the sermon and we both agreed that at first, it seems like Luke, in writing this passage, had several random quotes of Jesus that he needed to do something with, so he just ran them all together here and moved on. We start with hate everybody, then carry your cross, building a house, going to war, and then getting rid of all of your possessions. Are these random thoughts or are they related? Answer: related, but it is easier to find the thread running through them by first breaking down each of the components.
First, you’ve got to hate everybody. By this time in Jesus’ ministry, we know that he does not want us to truly hate anybody. It would be the complete opposite of his other teachings, particularly that bit about “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) It would also be the complete opposite of his every action; from healing the sick to feeding the 5,000 to raising the dead. None of this speaks of hate. So what is Jesus saying? St. Benedict put it best, “Let nothing be preferred to the work of God.” (The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. XLI) We are to hate no one, but we are not to love or prefer anyone, including ourselves and our very lives, over God.
The next two statements, building a tower and going to war, are closely related, but Jesus had some very specific examples that he was alluding to. With regards to building of the tower, at that time, Herod had undertaken the rebuilding of the Temple. Looking at that project or one similar, anyone could ask, “What does something like that cost? Can you afford it? You’re going to look pretty stupid if you run out of money before the work is done.” As for the going to battle statement, many at that time were looking for a military solution to kick the Romans out. Jesus statement asked them and others the question, “Have you seen the size of the Roman army? Can you finish what you’ve started if you go to war with them?” As an aside, forty years later, the Temple was destroyed. By who? The Romans. Sermon for another day. Anyhow, both of these illustrations, outside of their historical references, ask the question, “Have you counted the cost of this particular venture?”
The final statement is no easier than the first: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” For some, this is a very literal command. Give it all up and follow me, but for most, to follow this literally, would be… well, for starters, it would be to make their families and themselves homeless. I do not believe this is what Jesus intended; however, each of us should be prepared to literally give up all our possessions for the sake of the Gospel. Benedict’s statement applies here as well, “Let nothing be preferred to the work of God.” Let nothing, including all your possessions, be more important to you than the work of God.
Put it all together and what is the message? Calvin said to his teacher, “Frankly, I’d like to have the issue resolved before I expend any more energy on this.” Jesus is saying to us, “Before you expend anymore energy on following me, you need to sit down and count the cost, because there may come a time when you will have to decide what is most important and discard whatever prevents you from following me.”
Many world religions have the practice of taking a pilgrimage—a long journey—to a place of religious significance. Within Christianity, Jerusalem and Rome top out the list, and for many the number three pilgrimage is the Camino de Santiago, The Way of St. James. I shared with you in last month’s newsletter that I would be taking a sabbatical next year and walking that pilgrimage.
Legend has it that the Apostle James was martyred by Herod Agrippa and that the disciples of James took his body and placed it in a rudderless boat and set it out on the Mediterranean Sea. Guided by God, the boat eventually landed on the coast of Spain and King Alfonso II had the Apostle buried near there and a chapel built, which would later become Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.
Since that time, for over a thousand years, people have been making pilgrimage to the Cathedral to kneel and pray before the burial place of the Apostle. There are many different routes, but the most traditional is the Camino Frances. You can begin anywhere you like along the route (anything over 63 miles is considered having walked the Camino), but the full route begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Great Pyrenees, which then crosses into Spain. Total, it is a four hundred ninety mile walk across northern Spain. Last year, there were about 33,000 people that walked the full Camino Frances.
The shell became the sign of the pilgrim, for after reaching the Cathedral, pilgrims would continue on to the coast (about 47 miles) to the place where the Apostle’s boat beached and collect a shell as a sign that they had completed the pilgrimage.
I share this with you this morning for two reasons. One, this probably isn’t the last time you’ll hear me talk about it and so I figure you may want some vague idea as to what I’ll be up to. Two, I’ve got at least forty pounds to drop, because not only do you walk the entire trip, but you also carry everything you need in a backpack. When it comes to packing that backpack, people are weighing things, not in pounds, but in ounces. Yeah, it would be fun to have your laptop with you, but schlep those three pounds around for a couple hundred miles and you’ll be looking for a pawn shop or a dumpster. So many stories of people way overpacking and pitching things they didn’t need. So many people not counting the cost of the pilgrimage, expending too much energy on things that are nothing but dead weight, and once they’re on the road, they figure out what is truly important and what is not. What they need to live on, to survive and what’s just an extraneous burden.
From our Gospel: “Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them….” He stopped and he turned to that crowd and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, then know that you and I are going on a difficult pilgrimage together. Right now, the road is not so bad and you are able to hang onto everything you want, but, there will come a time when the road gets much more difficult and you will be faced with a choice: discard the extraneous things in your life and continue following me, or hang on to all you want and fall away. So, instead of getting half way to the goal and quitting, stop, today, and count the cost, ‘Choose you this day whom you will serve.’”
There are many things that you can and do expend your energies on, but “Let nothing be preferred to the work of God.”
Let us pray: O Blessed Virgin Mary, help us to keep to our purpose of living as faithful disciples of Jesus, for the building up of the Christian society and the joy of His Holy Church. We greet you, Mother, morning and evening; We pray to you as we go on our way; from you we hope for the inspiration and encouragement that will enable us to fulfill the sacred promises of our earthly vocations, give glory to God, and win eternal salvation. Like you, help us to always remain near to Jesus. Amen.