September 4, 2022
I was reading recently about the interesting ways our brains will sometimes process the world. One of those things was that we tend to understand things in time the same way we understand them in space—basically, we process some event far off in the future as small and manageable in the same way that a mountain or a plane looks small when it’s really far away. It makes it so that we overestimate the importance of stuff that will happen soon, and underestimate the importance of things that happen far the future. It’s why making a good decision that is hard now, but will definitely pay off later, is so much harder than making an easy decision now that will come back to bite us later. Our brains understand the future as less important than the present.
Which is probably why Jesus’s words today come across as even more shocking. We don’t often talk about the cost of discipleship, but Jesus is making it abundantly clear that this faith we take on is going to change things, radically, and forever. And some of that change can be pretty challenging, and pretty painful. The harshness of what he’s saying is just to emphasize the point that following Jesus means everything else—even family and possessions—has to come second. Following Jesus looks like leaving behind everything that was once important. The hard part is that the reward, the good stuff, the thing that makes it worth it, is really far off in time. And we get a glimpse of what that struggle looks like in the second reading from today, from the letter to Philemon.
August 28, 2022
It’s been a few years, but I can still remember the anxious feeling I got the first time I walked into a brand-new school lunchroom after moving from Virginia to North Carolina. I didn’t really have any friends yet (having just met a few people in the two periods before lunchtime), so there I was, holding my lunch tray and looking around the room for a table that made sense. There’s a weird level of politicking that goes on in school lunchrooms—where you sit and who you sit with matters. I had to quickly judge who were “my people” that it would be okay to sit with to avoid the very public humiliation of being told I couldn’t sit at some certain table or other. The safest way to go, as far as I could tell, was to avoid any table with kids who looked too popular, and it seems like that worked. Not thinking too highly of yourself seems to be the lesson of the day.
And I think we’re pretty decent at that, most of the time, right? We value humility. We don’t, generally speaking, think we deserve the most important jobs or the most prestigious promotions. Or at least we won’t go around proclaiming that we do! We won’t go to a party or get-together that we weren’t invited to. But that assumption that humility is a virtue wasn’t always the case, which is the situation Jesus is speaking to in our reading today.
August 21, 2022
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: you have met with your doctor and talked about a procedure that you’ll need to have. Both of you agree it’s necessary and needs to be done soon, so you go and schedule it. Then, something happens and it has to be rescheduled. And then rescheduled. Insurance snags, scheduling conflicts, and even good old-fashioned mess-ups push the date out further and further. Until by the time it finally gets done, you’re left wondering why it needed to take so long and why it was so difficult to be taken care of when it was agreed that it was necessary and urgent.
Delays are part of life, admittedly. Having to wait for things is a discipline that we can use to grow in self-control. But when something is wrong, when something is broken, when something needs to be fixed now, it can be beyond frustrating when it’s put off—especially when there’s no good reason for it to be put off to begin with. Whether it’s our bodies that need fixing, or our homes that need fixing, or our society that needs fixing, being told we have to wait for no other reason than just “because” is just not good enough.