A man’s reach

“Oh, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

So wrote the poet Robert Browning and the words serve well to remind us that life is all about striving for the more, the greater. Sports people and artists show us constantly the peaks of human effort.

We see the near perfection of their performance on field or stage or on the screen but we pass over the hours of training and striving that went before. Any achievement costs “fishing all night and catching nothing” and then an occasional haul in the morning.

Jesus used hyperbole to jolt us into knowing what he was calling for: “unless a person hates his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, they cannot be my disciple.” What could be more radical than turning your back on your closest relatives? It sounds outrageous if you take it literally but, of course, Jesus did not mean “hate” in the way we mean it.

For him it was making the Father the total centre of his life. We have glimpses of this when he stays behind in Jerusalem at the age of 12, much to his parents annoyance, and when he replied to the man who said his mother and brothers were outside and wanted to talk to him, “who is my mother and brother? Anyone who does the will of my Father is mother and brother and sister to me.”

These are the words of one who puts a radical choice before us. Are you prepared to reach for the stars in your ambition? Or do you just vaguely want to succeed in a general non-taxing kind of way? What do you really want? Are you prepared to strive and sweat for it? Or do you just hope that soon everything will be OK if I have patience and wait? If history and politics teach us anything it is that change does not just happen like the rainy season follows the dry.

We know it doesn’t work that way. In human affairs there has to be a striving, a struggle, for the better to emerge. We see this in nature. We see it everywhere.

We are a peaceful people and we laugh a lot. It is our way of coping with setbacks and disappointments. And there is a place for patience and waiting. But I know in my own life how easy it is to do that to excess; to avoid any sort of confrontation and pain and just go with the flow. That may make for my comfort but it will not bring about change.

Post published in: Faith

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