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.
Everyone knows what it is like being the new guy. Few people know what it is like being the new guy in a Monastery. Even fewer people know what it is like being the new guy in a Monastery that is “Renewing Our Foundations.” Let me tell you what it is like.
If you have ever dined with us Brothers in our refectory, you will have seen our water pitchers. We place two full water pitchers on each table at every meal. Obviously these water pitchers do not just fill themselves up. A Brother has do that, and one of my first days as a Postulant here at SSJE, I was that Brother.
I was nervous. How much water do I put in? How much ice? Which faucet do I use? Do I turn the faucet on full blast or would that be too loud? The questions swirled through my head as the water filled up the pitcher in my hand. I thought I had nailed it. The water looked good in that pitcher, and I was proud of myself.
“Try to fill it a little higher, that way we don’t run out of water during the meal.” I did not even hear the Brother come up behind me. He took the water pitcher from me and showed me with his finger where a good spot to fill it to was. He then turned the faucet back on and filled up the pitcher a little more, smiled and walked away.
I grabbed another empty pitcher. Round two. Time for redemption. I eyeballed the spot where my Brother had pointed. I carefully watched the water fill up and gently turned off the faucet. I smiled. I got it right. I was sure.
“Try not to fill it so high, it might spill when a guest is pouring it.” A different Brother was over my shoulder this time. He poured out a little water from the pitcher and walked away. Welcome to community living.
A few weeks later I was told we would be pausing our guest ministry at Emery House and all the Brothers would be living in Cambridge. My first thought was. “Oh good, more Brothers here, less work for me.” My next thought was “how on earth do you renew foundations?”
Renewing foundations, for me, ended up being a lot like filling those water pitchers. I listened, I watched, I tried to help out when I could, but above all else I learned. Most importantly, I learned the value of endurance. The via media of our way of life is both fruitful and agonizing; it requires endurance to abide in Christ in community. Mistakes are going to be made, miscommunication is going to happen, and opinions will always differ, but we always manage to get the water to the table and share a nice meal.