Once upon a time, a group of people were cast away on a deserted island in the middle of the Ocean. They had no radio. They had no supplies. They had water, and the lagoon was teaming with fish. So they could survive, but there was no way off the island. They dreamed of going home.
One day, a battered life boat washed ashore. The castaways rejoiced at their find. Once they examined the boat, however, they found it full of holes. The wood was rotting. There was no telling how long it had been carried by ocean currents until if found its way to the lonely island.
The castaways held a meeting to decide what to do. A few of the castaways held the belief that the boat could be patched with island mud and tree sap. This seemed doubtful. Some argued that the repairs to the boat would never hold up. They would only serve to get them out to sea where the patches would dissolve in the salt water, thus sinking the boat and delivering a splendid meal to the sharks. But others argued that the boat was their only hope of salvation. Many were undecided. One by one, they convinced the islanders that they boat should be repaired. “We can’t stay here forever. We have to do SOMETHING!”
The greater part of the castaways, all but two, began their work. The boat was patched. Two of the castaways refused to work on the boat. They insisted the plan would never work. They tried to warn the others of the foolishness of their plan. But the others just insisted that the two were just being negative. They weren’t being team players. There’s no “I” in team, they said. But there is in life, the two replied.
At first, they were annoyed at the two dissenters. Then they began to make fun of them, and laugh at them. But as the boat progressed, the others began to be openly hostile towards the two. They withheld food rations from them for not helping with the boat. If you don’t work, you don’t eat, they said. Soon, the two were forced to move to another part of the island. Just before the others were about to launch their boat, they came and offered the two one last chance to join them.
It’s funny, isn’t it? People seem to be willing to believe anything if there are enough other people who believe it. That’s certainly true of religion. How else can you get the idea that there is such a thing as holy underwear?
Religion is like underwear for some people. It makes them feel safe and secure. It’s the buffer between their earthly bodies and the world around them. Some people wear their religion like a suit of clothes. It’s what they wear in public. It changes according to the style of the day. And, as in any fashion style, there are rules to how you wear it, rules you must follow or risk being cast off by society. And then you have to choose. Follow the dictates of style, and go with the crowd, or go your own way.
I don’t like to wear ultra stylish clothes. I did once. But now, I feel better wearing classic looks that never seem to go out of style. Of course, they’re never really in style either. A simple shirt, or a pair of comfortable jeans always seem to suit the purpose. I’m too old to care anymore about what other people think of me. But it’s hard to be different.
I know. It isn’t easy being one of the few Catholics in our church to be in favor of the right for gays and lesbians to marry. In fact, it wasn’t easy a few years ago to be a Kerry supporter during the 2004 election in our parish. And it's REALLY hard to be a liberal up here on the mountain. We take a lot of abuse. Some people went so far as to tell us we had no right to call ourselves Catholic if we supported Kerry over Bush, or Obama over Romney, or Clinton over Trump. It isn’t easy to stand for something. Jesus didn’t want anyone to have any illusions about that.
The people of first century Judea believed that God rewarded you for being righteous, not in some far off heaven, but right here on earth. But Jesus made it clear time and again that if you truly follow his teachings, if you live the kind of life Christ is calling you to live, you will not be treated well. You will be ridiculed. You will be persecuted. The fourteenth chapter of Luke makes it clear.
“But great crowds were going along with him, and he turned (and) said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, that one is not able to be my disciple. Whoever does not bear their cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, does not first sit (and) count the cost, if he has (enough) to complete?–that lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish, all the ones seeing might begin to mock him, saying, ‘This person began to build and was not able to finish.’
Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first to deliberate if he is able with ten thousand to meet with twenty thousand coming upon him? And if not, yet being far from him, he sent a message asking for peace. So, therefore, any one of you who does not forsake all that he has is not able to be my disciple.’” (Luke, Chapter 14—a direct translation)
Hate is such a strong word. It did not hold the same meaning for first century Palestine as it does for us. It would almost appear here that Jesus is opposed to family values of any kind. But in this case, when Jesus says we should “hate” our fathers, mothers, wives, and children, he means that we should not be concerned about what other people think about us. To “hate” you family in the first century sense meant to bring disgrace upon them, by your words and actions. The family was highly valued then, as now. To bring dishonor on your family was to “hate” them.
Saint Paul said he was a “fool for Christ”. Jesus called upon us to love our enemies. He told us to take care of one another. He said that revenge, or what most Americans think of as “justice”, was wrong. He told us to share what we had. He said the loving one another was more important than making money and acquiring stuff. He said we should abandon anything, anyone, or any way of living that separates us from the source of all love and energy. And if you live that way, people are going to think you’re nuts. They may even hate you. You don’t think so? Try being among the only people in America calling for peace and forgiveness on 9/12/01.
Jesus wants to make it clear what living an enlightened life is like. He is reminding us that we better count the cost before we start. It isn’t going to be easy. You have to be willing to “take up your cross” because they killed him for telling the truth. They’re not going to be any nicer to you. Look what they did to Gandhi. Look what they did to Martin Luther King Jr.
There were people who thought we were crazy for running a marathon. When I asked my doctor for a note indicating I was in good health so I could join a training program called the Los Angeles Roadrunners (whom I highly recommend, by the way), he told me the psychiatric care was upstairs. People thought I was nuts. Many still do. And running that marathon hurt like a son of a bitch, I can tell you. Yet I have a sense of satisfaction for finishing that race that none of the people who laughed at me will ever feel or understand.
There is a lot of pressure on us to follow the crowd. Some people seem to live their lives based on talking points. They spit back whatever the media tells them. I remember going to a Linda Rondstadt concert and the woman in front of me said she hoped Linda wouldn’t dedicate any more songs to that no good Michael Moore. I told her that I really enjoyed his films and she responded, “Michael Moore hates America.” I asked her why she believed that, but she could not answer. She didn’t know why she thought that, other than she didn’t like him pointing out America’s faults. Well, somebody has to do it.
Jesus is pointing out that there is only one way to get to know the divine. You have to live that life of love and service. We have to take care of one another and when we do that, we touch the spirit of the creator. We awaken the divine in ourselves. No other path will take you there. Every other path is centered in the self.
I remember once at the kung fu club when a guy came into the club and said that he wanted to learn how to use the weapons of our particular system, but he didn’t want to start at the beginning and learn the whole style. We had to tell him that you needed to know the system to use the weapons properly. He left disappointed. It is as Mr. Miyagi said to Danielsan: you have to stand on one side of the road or the other, but if you stand in the middle, you get squashed like a bug. You either karate-do yes or you karate-do no.
You either live a spiritual life or you don’t. And if you do live a spiritual life, life is going to be difficult. People will think you’re wacko. You have to know that going in.
One thing I learned from practicing kung fu is that you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself. You have to let go of yourself. You have to risk looking clumsy and foolish. You have to lose that ego. The truth is that you find yourself by taking care of others. And that seems to go against everything we’ve ever been told.
What is it we’ve heard over and over again? God helps those who help themselves. There is a certain amount of truth in that, but it doesn’t mean to be selfish. It simply means you have to get off your butt and do something. You have to plant a seed and water it if you expect it to grow. It isn’t about you. As Carly Simon said, “You probably think this song is about you.” But it isn’t. It’s about all of us.
I wonder what those two castaways did. Did they go ahead and join the others on that ill advised voyage in a poorly patched up boat? Did they go along with the others? Or did they stay behind on the island, because although they wanted to escape the island also, they knew that leaving on that boat could only end in disaster? What would you have done? Are you willing to live your life the way you think you should in spite of what other people think of you? You may find that the best course of action for you goes against everything you’ve ever come to believe. You may find that the best path to follow is the one that seems the least appealing. Are you willing to look like a fool?