Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name. Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.
You and I have read in the Gospels the verses where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor” (Matthew 19:21), “Consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow” (Luke 12:24,27), and “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
Challenging? Absolutely. Then, when I am convinced that these are unattainable directives, I remember that I am following a suggested program of spiritual recovery. I can never do it perfectly in this lifetime. On the practical side, Jesus in his life on earth probably never had material wealth with which to concern himself. He did not share the wealth of the Romans or the Jewish religious hierarchy.
Jesus also said not to worry about tomorrow. For us in today’s world of turmoil and tribulation this also is a difficult directive to follow. Tell that to the federal employees who worked without a paycheck for 34 days, or the father of four who has been told his company is shutting down next week, or the single mother who is trying to provide for her family on a minimum wage job. C’mon Jesus, this is 2019. We have a lot more about which to worry.
And as for enemies, Jesus, even though you were crucified, you didn’t have nuclear weapons controlled by madmen poised to obliterate you, your city and your country. I don’t mean to slight your perspective, but we live in different times. There are people who seriously hate us because of who we are. And you want us to love them?
Francesco faced the same issues in his home town. Pietro Bernardone returned from a business trip to France to learn that in his absence his wife had birthed a son whom she baptized Giovanni honoring John the Baptist. Pietro was furious. He did not want a man of God – he wanted a man of business. He renamed his son Francesco.
Francesco enjoyed a very happy, privileged childhood. As he grew up, he became the leader of a crowd of young people who loved to party and carouse. Thomas of Celano said of him, “In other respects an exquisite youth, he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice.”
But Francesco did not want to be a businessman like his father. He wanted to be a fighter and got his chance to do so when his town declared war on the nearby town of Perugia. Captured and thrown in prison, he was finally ransomed after a year and returned to his life partying with his friends. But he still wanted to be a noble, a knight of distinction.
He got his opportunity when a call went out for knights to join the Fourth Crusade. He was fitted with a suit of armor decorated with gold and a magnificent cloak, then rode off to join the Crusade. But, only a day’s ride from his home town, Francesco had a dream in which God told him he was wrong and should return home.
At this point in the story, you and I should ask, “Why would a wealthy, worldly, privileged noble man accustomed to parties and fun-loving friends heed a God-dream and abandon his own personal dream of pursuing honor and fame?”
Upon returning home he was humiliated, laughed at, called a coward and raged at by his father who had funded the expensive suit of armor.
And thus begins the converted life of Francis of Assisi. God called him and he could only answer, “Yes.” Reading the passages about giving up all possessions, living for today, and loving his enemies, Francis decided to live as if Jesus really meant what he said in scriptures. He turned his back on the materialism and militarism of the world and said, “Yes , Jesus.”
I believe that is what Jesus wants us to do. He doesn’t want us to impoverish ourselves, to live irresponsible lives, or to throw ourselves down at the feet of our enemies. He just wants us to say, “Yes.”