Jesus does not sugarcoat his words in today’s Gospel. He tells us that the road we have to walk is hard. There is no way around it. Life will not always be easy. Such brutal honesty from Jesus may seem jarring, but he is preparing his disciples for the long journey ahead of them in which they certainly face hard times.
When I was a senior in college, I went to bed one night with a slight pain in my left leg. I thought I was just sore from exercising. I woke up the next morning and my leg had swollen to the point that I could barely walk. Soon after I started sweating and shivering uncontrollably.
The first doctor I saw in the hospital walked into my room holding the biggest syringe I had ever seen. The syringe looked like a water bottle with a comically oversized needle on one end and a plunger on the other. He explained that he had to drain my leg immediately and there was no time for anesthesia. Then he looked me in the eye and told me that this was going to be painful.
My memories of that week in the hospital are a blur now, but I still remember the tone of voice the doctor used as he lovingly did not sugarcoat telling me what pain I was about to feel. Jesus has the same love for us disciples when he tells us that the road we will walk in his name will be hard. The straight and narrow path will never be pain free.
All too often I consider pain to be a sign of failure. A failure of not having planned correctly, a failure of having the wrong attitude, or even a failure of those around me. Jesus tells us and shows us that pain is not a sign of failure. Pain is an essential and unavoidable leg of the journey in our formation. The presence of pain does not mean something has gone wrong, the presence of pain means we are in this world and struggling to be the best Disciples of Christ we can be.
Consider our stained glass saints that overlook us day after day. Think about all the pain they endured on their road from birth to death. Was not their pain worth it? Do you think anyone of them would look back at their lives and say the joys of walking the road of discipleship were not worth the pain? Every night of confusion, every dawn of depression, every afternoon of apathy… they are all worth it, they are not signs of failure.
Jesus and the communion of saints is right here with us in our pain, suffering and sweating alongside us. We are never alone in our pain – even when we want to be. We do not fight alone. We are hip to hip in this battle, rustling down the straight and narrow path.
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