So right now I’m reading a book called “Pierced by a Sword” — It’s a fascinating little book involving several different characters, all undergoing conversions and various trials of faith all kind of at the same time. So there are all these stories that are interwoven, and they overlap in different ways, and what’s really interesting is that it takes place at this moment when all of the predictions and the warnings of various Marian Apparitions are beginning to come true and maybe it’s the end of the world… I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to the end of the book yet, so: No spoilers.
But one of these characters that we’ve met along the way is this prominent leader of the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City — and his name is John Lanning. We first meet Lanning as he is starting to doubt his Mormon faith. He’s starting to question it. Then all of a sudden, we learn that he has a massive heart attack that leaves him medically “dead” for 18 minutes. And during that experience, God allows his soul to be brought face to face with the full reality of Hell — and he actually feels the fire of Hell — And he realizes “WOW… If I died right now, this is where I’d go… this place that only moments ago, he didn’t even believe existed.
But then God intervenes, and John Lanning — this doubting Mormon — miraculously comes back to life. And he leaves the hospital, and heads straight to the local Catholic Church. He goes there to pray and he goes there to thank God for sparing his life.
As he enters the church, Lanning begins to come to grips with the ramifications of what just happened. And he realizes that now he knows the truth, and he has to do something about that! He has to become CATHOLIC! And yet, if knows if he became Catholic, his entire world would implode as soon as his conversion became public:
He would lose his wife.
He would lose his relatives.
He would lose his friends.
He would lose his job.
He would lose everything.
As he contemplates all the risks and consequences of converting from Mormonism to Catholicism, he looks over at the Tabernacle, and he sees the sanctuary lamp, and he realizes: Jesus is here. Then he asks a really important question:
“What is the Body of the real Jesus in the Tabernacle worth?”
What is Jesus worth???
That is a really important question — it’s a beautiful question and it’s also a fearsome question:
What is Jesus worth?
What is He worth to me?
What is He worth to you?
To Judas, Jesus was worth only 30 pieces of silver… not a whole lot. To countless saints and martyrs up and down the centuries, Jesus was beyond price: He was worth losing everything and anything for…
So how about you?
Have you ever tried asking the Lord what He is worth to you? Have you ever sat in front of Jesus in the Tabernacle and calculated the full cost of serving Him the way that you know He’s asking you to?
I encourage you to carve out some silence and make time for that sort of deep, sobering self-reflection.
Because, Jesus tells us point blank to do just that in our Gospel this weekend — to calculate the cost, to weigh His worth, and see whether or not we are really in this for the long haul:
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”
Following Jesus is NOT easy. It is NOT for the faint of heart. On our part, it is full of mistakes and weaknesses. It is not something to be undertaken lightly by fallen sinful creatures like us!
It doesn’t just cost us one hour on Sunday — but literally it costs us (or at least it should cost us) every drop of our lives. Every corner of it.
Jesus wants all of us, or none of us.
He wants us to be FULL saints… not half-way saints.
That’s what He means when he says stuff as shocking to our ears as:
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life… Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
He’s using hyperbolic language of course as a teaching tool — God obviously doesn’t want us to hate anyone. We’re supposed to love even our worst enemies! And yet! — what Jesus is driving at here is obvious:
We cannot prefer ANYTHING or ANYONE over Him.
Not sports. Not politics (as obsessed as so many of us are with them!). Not education. Not popularity. Not romance. Not reputation or acceptance. Not comfort. Not entertainment. Not financial stability. Not even your own family!
We can’t prefer ANY of those things over Jesus.
Now that will sound very foolish to a lot of people, maybe even people inside the Church. Most people I would say today — even fellow Christians sometimes — will urge us not to be fanatical and dogmatic — they’ll tell you to keep your beliefs “reasonable” and polite… to stay “open minded” and be willing to compromise. Come on, let’s be realistic! Let’s not worry so much about those doctrines! After all, you wouldn’t want to ruin your LIFE, right? You don’t want to be one of those weirdoes — those religious freaks, right?
But Christ’s words still ring out clear and hard — hard like a key that can actually open up the locked door of our hearts and the hearts of so many others: “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Now I hear that, and I have to admit that I start to feel very concerned — Because I think:
“WOW…that’s IMPOSSIBLE. That is so impossibly demanding. And I KNOW when I calculate the cost — I know I don’t have enough. I do not have what it takes. I am TOO WEAK to finish strong! Some days, I can’t put one stone on top of another, much less build an entire tower, Jesus! What chance do I have? It’s just too much… the cost is too high…!”
If that’s you… then… I want to tell you: DON’T be discouraged! DON’T give up… Instead, I think the Lord is actually inviting us to see in that weakness our strength!
St. Paul said that right? When we are weak — we are strong!
It’s kind of paradoxical. And yet, that is the wisdom of God! That is the wisdom of the Cross!
Jesus tells us in our Gospel today: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
We’re supposed to embrace the weakness of the Cross… and we don’t like doing that.
We just don’t like doing that.
I don’t like doing that! Do you?? I don’t think you do!
But that’s where grace comes in. That’s where the softening of the heart that only God’s grace can accomplish comes in.
Because when we experience that weakness… that emptiness… that realization that our humanity is corruptible and we are weak — when we realize how short our life is, and how small we really are, then we can see the infinite worth of Jesus.
And how beautiful it is, that he would come and lay down his life for us! — The infinitely worthy God came and died on a Cross for you and for me.
That is the only thing that matters.
And so we have to — in spite of our weakness and our sins — we have to come over and over and over to the Cross. We have to BEAR IT with Him.
Because He’s going to help us. He’s going to help YOU!
If you are willing to give up EVERYTHING for Him, He’s not going to let you just do that by yourself.
He doesn’t expect that from you.
He will help you to let go of everything… sacrifice everything and anything!
That’s what St. Paul is trying to help Philemon do in that beautiful second reading we just heard — He’s encouraging him to sacrifice the legal rights he has to his slave — his servant, Onesimus. Paul is encouraging Philemon to let go… to trust Jesus… and emancipate this slave that Paul has been discipling. Paul knows it will hurt. He knows it will be hard for him to do…
But Jesus is worth it.
He alone is worthy.
He is the Lamb who was slain, and yet He is standing. He is resurrected! He triumphed OVER weakness… He triumphed OVER death. He FREED us from slavery to sin — So… He’s worth everything.
The Eucharist we are about to share… is worth everything.
How much is Jesus worth to you?