We do it all the time, of course, perhaps sometimes with a higher level of consciousness than others. We estimate the cost, weighing one option against another, trying to decide if we have enough or want it enough or need it enough. We do it with our budgets and we do it in our relationships and we do it with our lives.
Jesus offers a couple of examples today. Everywhere I look this week it seems I see yet another, some more profound than others.
For instance, my attention was captured early in the week when I heard the news story about a subway line in Brooklyn being shut down because of two kittens playing on and near the third rail. Having dealt with a few kittens in my life, it was certainly entertaining to watch the workers try to corral them! (If you missed the story, you can find it here.) Think though, with me, about how those in charge of such decisions had to weigh the cost to the commuting schedules of perhaps hundreds of people, not to mention the economic impact, against the lives of a couple of kittens. As you can imagine, there was all sorts of commentary floating around about this decision in the days to follow as others estimated the cost differently.
Throughout this week, along with all of you, I have also found myself thinking about how our leaders are estimating the cost of continued diplomacy, calculated strikes, or all out war on Syria. Regardless of where you stand on this, the process is much the same. Is there enough? Enough cause? Enough weaponry? Enough political capital or will? Enough?
And I have been wondering at how this same way of thinking must have played in the story of Antoinette Tuff. Perhaps you’ve heard this remarkable story by now of how this woman stayed calm in the face of great danger as she talked down a heavily armed gunman in her school office. If you haven’t yet, take half an hour and listen in on the 911 call. (If you haven’t had the chance yet, you can find the link here.) In those moments fraught with threat and fear, she continued to speak calmly to him, connecting with him on a profoundly human level, resulting in him finally laying down his weapons and giving himself up. I know she was ‘estimating the cost’ in that hour — at one time contemplating the possibility of making a run for it — but did not, realizing this would put her at even greater risk.
I am more interested, though, in how Antoinette must have been ‘estimating the cost’ for decades before this, day after day, making one choice over another in order to form the kind of strength and character which would come to bear when she needed it most. Indeed, this remarkable woman spoke of how she had learned this in church — specifically, how to ‘push through the pain’ —how to stand strong and prevail even in the midst of pain. No, this does not happen over night, but only after a lifetime of choosing one thing over another: prayer over going it on one’s own, perhaps. And yes, gathering with others of God’s own for worship and mutual instead of opting for any of the other myriad of choices which are always available to us. Antoinette Tuff’s life has not been easy. I expect she has paid a price for her faith, as Jesus indicates we all will in today’s Gospel. Indeed, I can’t help but believe she must have, else she would not have found herself with what she needed in that critical hour just last week.
We do it all the time, estimating the cost as Jesus reminds us now. We do it when the stakes are high and we do it, too, when the stakes seem not nearly as high but when piled on, day after day, promise to make a difference one way or another.
We do it all the time — and yes, we are reminded today that we are also called to do this also in our lives of faith. Knowing that this will cost, too — in our relationships, perhaps, and also in how we live our lives in relationship to what we own. We ‘estimate the cost’, believing, sometimes against all evidence to the contrary, that this choice over another one will somehow make a difference. Indeed, it seems to me that the big moments when we know it matters are those which build upon all those small decisions along the way — times when we estimated the cost and perhaps, didn’t even know we were doing so. Or at least we didn’t know what a difference it would make one day…
- I have often thought that these words of Jesus may not make the faith we hold and follow seem very attractive. Why does he offer them then?
- I have offered several example of ‘estimating the cost’ above. What others would you offer?
- What does it mean to ‘estimate the cost’ in our life of faith? What does it cost? What difference does it make?