The Courage to Be

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When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.

Luke 9: 51

Job opened his mouth and cursed his day. Job spoke out and said: “Perish the day on which I was born, the night when they said, ‘The child is a boy!” Why did I not perish at birth?”

Job 3: 1-3

In today’s readings we are confronted with two very different responses to destiny. Luke describes Jesus as resolutely setting out for his passion and death in Jerusalem. Job, however, expresses something most of us have felt in the face of impending pain and suffering, “Why did I not perish at birth?” Most of us know the experience of wishing we had never been born or lived rather than having to face the suffering and struggle before us.

It takes a lot of courage to face life, to commit ourselves to resolutely follow the way to our Jerusalem, to our destiny and call, and courage does not come easily. In the great moments of trial and in the ordinary and everyday moments of facing and dealing with reality, we often find ourselves cowering or evading. It is easy to serve the welfare of another when it is from a position of power. But it is beyond difficult to do so at the cost of our own comfort and appreciation by others .

One of the most frequent experiences of such a crucible is when we are asked to be honest with another or others when their reaction, or that of those around us is likely to be negative. Is the true welfare of another’s soul more important to us than their reaction to us? Are we willing to live with the conflict and pain of a situation, if that is the cost of speaking the truth?

So often, I find myself wanting to do good, but not if it costs me acceptance or comfort. It is easier to rationalize my attempt to make everybody happy, than it is to summon the courage to stand in the truth. It is often easier to flirt with various activities and goals than it is to commit myself heart and soul when the task at hand asks of me more than I would like to do.

Courage comes from a wholehearted commitment to our life and our life task. It takes great courage to live and to work from our heart, because to be wholehearted towards another, a work, and a life will always ultimately break our hearts. Jesus sets out resolutely to be killed by those he loves. Anyone or anything we give our lives to will at some point disappoint and fail us (as we them). Although that is not the last word, we must be willing to bear and to go through the pain. We must resolutely continue our work even when it seems fruitless and hopeless.

In our time of so many possibilities and so much novelty, it is very easy to avoid coming to know and to live out of the longings of our hearts. We can settle for apparent success and the regard and affirmation of others. And, when when we experience moments of dissatisfaction and lack, we can busy ourselves with something new. Or else, like Jesus, we can resolutely determine to expend ourselves in service to the love of our lives. What we learn from Job, however, is that there is no guarantee that if we do this we shall be fulfilled and gratified. We may well discover that there appears to be no end to the sacrifice that love entails.

Paul Tillich spoke of the “courage to be.” it is relatively easy to live a life where everything is negotiable for the sake of momentary satisfaction and social acceptance. To do so, however, means that we never come to be; the life call that we are never serves the world in the way that God intends. What and whom do we really love enough to resolutely risk our own life on its behalf?

[American] conformism might approximate collectivism, not so much in economic respects, and not too much in political respects, but very much in the pattern of daily life and thought. Whether this will happen or not, and if it does to what degree, is partly dependent on the power of resistance in those who represent the opposite pole of the courage to be, the courage to be as oneself.

Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 112.

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