Tee Boudreaux is 24 years old and still living at home. Boudreaux and Chlotile are starting to worry about what he is going to do with his future. Boudreaux tells Chlotile, “Cher, let’s do a little test. We goin’ to put a ten-dollar bill, a bible and a bottle of Jacque Daniel on de table, and when Tee Boudreaux comes in, we gonna be able to figure out what he’s gonna do. If he takes de ten-dollar bill, he’s gonna be a businessman, if he picks up de bible, he’s gonna be a preacher, but if he picks up de booze, I’m afraid he’s gonna be a bum de rest of his life.” So they put the stuff out and hid in the closet when they heard Tee coming in. Tee walks by the table, picks up the ten-dollar bill, looks at it, and puts it in his pocket. Then he picks up the bible, flips through it, and puts it under his arm. He picks up the Jacque Daniel, takes a healthy swig out of it, and walks off with the rest of the bottle. Boudreaux and Chlotile were watching all of this through the keyhole, and Boudreaux sighs, “Mais Cher, it looks like our son is gonna be a dang politician!”
Mark Twain was not kind to politicians. He wrote, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” One of the places where so many politicians shine is in their campaign promises, but what if, instead of promising forty acres and a mule, they were honest? Or what if those promises were so negative that no one would vote for them? N.T. Wright says, “Imagine a politician standing on a soapbox addressing a crowd. ‘If you’re going to vote for me,’ he says, ‘you’re voting to lose your homes and families; you’re asking for higher taxes and lower wages, you’re deciding in favor of losing all you love best! So come on—who’s on my side?’” But as Wright points out, what Jesus was saying in our Gospel isn’t all that much better: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple… So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
When you hear those words, is the first thought that comes to your mind: “Sign me up!” “He’s got my vote!” Hardly. Most likely, the first thought is: “I think I’ll vote for the forty acres and a mule.” But what if N.T. Wright’s politician has something else in mind. What if, instead of just some random goals, that person is asking you to give up family and friends, possessions and homes, and possibly your very life to follow him on a dangerous journey, but a journey that will provide the answer to the millions in this world that are hungry? Not just some pipe dream, but a “for fact” answer. If you go, risking everything, you will be a part of feeding the world, even though you may die in the process. Would that change how you viewed the offer? Yes. I think it would. Many would see it as a difficult choice, but many brave souls would see that the value for humanity far outweighs the cost, even if the cost is life.
This is the type of offer that Jesus is making. It sounds horrible—leave everything, give up your life, follow me—but it is an offer to be with him and have eternal life through the resurrection. The only problem, we see everything we’re being asked to do and none of what is to come. St. Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain… If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins… If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If none of what Jesus has promised is true, we are fools, and even though we have faith in those promises, there can still be this inkling of doubt, and that inkling can have more significant sway over our lives than all our faith, which always leads to a choice: follow God or follow the inkling. In our reading of Deuteronomy, Moses put it a bit more bluntly, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” He says, “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God… the Lord your God will bless you… if your heart turns away and you do not hear but are led astray… you shall perish.” It is a choice. Moses says we are choosing between life and death, which means we are choosing between following Jesus and following the desires of self. So how does self lead us away from Jesus?
On Wednesday night, we’ve begun the study of Eat this Book by Eugene Peterson. This past week, Peterson was talking about choices. “By the time we can hold a spoon,” he writes, “we choose between half a dozen cereals for breakfast, ranging from Cheerios to Corn Flakes.” From there, he points out that throughout our lives, we are given all sorts of choices: the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, courses in school, career planning, on and on; and so he concludes, “We enter adulthood with the working assumption that whatever we need and want and feel forms the divine control center of our lives.” The self is leading the way.
The result, Peterson says, “My needs are non-negotiable. My so-called rights, defined individually, are fundamental to my identity. My need for fulfillment, for expression, for affirmation, for sexual satisfaction, for respect, my need to get my own way—all these provide a foundation to the centrality of me and fortify myself against diminution.” (di•mi•nu•tion: had to look that one up. It means decreasing in size or importance.) “My feelings are the truth of who I am.” (P.31-32)
Self leads us away from Jesus, away from God, because we won’t allow God or anyone else to interfere or even question our desires, so when Jesus says, “Give up everything—your possessions, your life, your will, your self—for the promises I have made to you and follow me,” combined with that inkling of doubt concerning those promises… we end up making poor choices.
In Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis tells us, “Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” (p.92)
The promises of Jesus are not like the promises of a politician. The promises of Jesus contain life itself. The path he calls us to walk is not always easy; it can be quite difficult and, more often than not, requires the exact opposite of the choice the self wants to make. So, as the man building a house or the king facing war, sit down and calculate the price. Not so that you can decide if following Jesus is worth it—that would be foolishness—but so that you can prepare your heart and mind to be obedient even in the most costly of times.
Let us pray: Loving Father, faith in Your Word is the way to wisdom. Help us to think about Your Divine Plan that we may grow in the truth. Open our eyes to Your deeds, our ears to the sound of Your call, so that our every act may help us share in the life of Jesus. Give us the grace to live the example of the love of Jesus, which we celebrate in the Eucharist and see in the Gospel. Form in us the likeness of Your Son and deepen His Life within us. Amen.