Faith can be tough. Jesus told his disciples that they needed to sell everything they owned and to pick up a cross and follow him. He said that he came to pit family members against each other. And that we should hate our lives in order to preserve them for what is coming after. That last one, of course, is from today’s Gospel.
And there are times in the Gospel, and in our lives, when we can experience a strange mixture of anguish and elation. When despair and joy intermingle and maybe even seem connected to each other. You could say that this is the essence of the human experience as our lives have both elements: anguish and elation.
I have often reflected on the fact that most of the biggest hardships we face in life come when we are transitioning… moving from one place to another, one status to another, one position to another, one phase to the next. Transitions are where stress occurs and while we would all just assume have less stress in our lives, not much ever gets done without it.
For example, we move from carefree childhood to the responsibilities and burdens of adulthood. We shift from the relative safety and predictability of one job to the next or one school to another. Some of us give up the solitude and natural self-centeredness of being alone to attaching our life to someone else’s… with all of the joy… and despair… that that can bring.
I once heard a story about a man who came across the cocoon of an Emperor Moth while he was out walking in the woods. He was intrigued, so he carefully took it off the branch it hung upon and brought it home so that he could observe it further. When it came time for the moth to emerge, he watched it struggle and fight its way through the cocoon. He felt great pity for the moth, so he carefully opened the cocoon to facilitate its exit. When the beautiful moth came out of the cocoon and stood before him, he waited for it to fly away. But it did not. It fluttered about on his table and eventually fell over and died. He learned that the moth needs the struggle, needs the fight. This helps it build up the wing strength it requires in order to fly. Without that struggle, through the transition from inside the cocoon to out, it cannot take flight. It cannot live.
Our transitions are much like this. We experience the struggle but often cannot move forward without it. This can cause both anguish and elation. Anguish for what we lose, but elation for what we gain.
Today’s Gospel suggests that this was the process Jesus was going through. He clearly states: “I am troubled now.” He knows what is coming next. He understands how this story will end. But then he realizes that this is why he came. That this was his very purpose.
We often see in the Gospel some pretty impressive miracles. A leper is made clean again. A woman is cured. Thousands are fed. But every one of those individuals still needed to eventually pass through the transition that we all must pass through. This is the essence of our human experience.
Jesus did not come here merely to perform those miracles. He came for what would come after them. And for what we now enter into in these waning days of Lent.
Pablo Picasso once said: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” I believe he had that right…
We are all on the road to Jerusalem too. We can walk it alone. Or we can walk it with Jesus.
We can experience only the sorrow. Or we can walk forward, knowing with confidence that the greatest joy ever possible still awaits us.
Anguish for what we lose.
Elation for all we gain…