Imagine that you are standing on one side of a large room with your back against the wall. You really want to get to the room because there is something at the opposite wall that you desperately want, so you begin walking to the other side of the room. At first it is easy, but soon you begin to notice that walking become harder and harder with each step, until all at once you stop. You are frustrated because you cannot take another step forward. Then, to add insult to injury, you suddenly feel yourself pulled back to the wall where you started. In your confusion you turn around and see something you hadn't noticed before: there is a big elastic band that is connecting your back to the wall! How had you not noticed it earlier? Now, as ridiculous as this story sounds, we can easily experience much the same thing when we try to follow Jesus.
Because of our over-attachment to something or someone, we often fall short in following Christ. Sometimes our hearts are too full of things other than God that we do not live up to our potential as Christians. In today’s gospel, Jesus says that our hearts should be attached to Him alone. He mentions that we need to detach from certain things, but His language is confusing. We need to hate our family in order to be Jesus’ disciples? Really? Doesn't that go against the commandment to honor your father and mother? We cannot follow Christ unless we give up all our possessions? What will we wear? Where will we live? Clearly Jesus is speaking in hyperbole; we should not take this literally. Jesus is trying to strike home this important point: different things, even good things, can hold us back from following Jesus. These things become like the elastic band in the story I told earlier. In our life it is like we are in that room, trying to get to the other side. We are trying to walk towards Christ and heaven. When we follow Jesus we can feel like this journey is easy at first, then it can get harder and harder until we stop making progress altogether. Sometimes we may even regress and be pulled backwards. Often it is as though we are tied to the wall by a big elastic band. The elastic is anything that takes the place of God in our heart or takes us away from God. The thing might be good in itself like our family, a friendship, work or a hobby. But when these things divert us from God they become like an elastic band that holds us back from following Jesus properly.
Today’s gospel teaches us that Jesus must always be the priority in our life. Good things, like family, work and hobbies have a very important place in our life, but Christ must take the most important place in our life. I once heard an analogy that explains this well. Actually the one I am about to tell I have changed a little bit, so if you have heard the original and like it better, I apologize in advance. Imagine that you have in front of you a big, empty glass jar. Now imagine that you place one large rock into the jar. The rock is so big that when it is placed in the jar the top of the rock is level with the top of the jar. At first glance you may think that the jar is full, but then you take a bag of pebbles and begin pouring them into the jar. The pebbles fill in all the spaces that separate the large rock from the sides of the jar. Again the jar seems full. But Wait! Again you take another bag, this one filled with sand, and begin pouring the contents into the jar. The sand fills up all the spaces between the pebbles. This time the jar looks really full! But next you take a pitcher of water and pour it into the jar. The water then fills all the gaps between the grains of sand.
Our life is like this glass jar. Each of us fills our life with things of different importance; this is represented by the rock, the pebbles, the sand and the water. The large rock is Jesus and He is meant to fill our life. What this analogy teaches us is that even when Jesus fills our life there is still room for everything else. There is room for the very important things, represented by the pebbles: family, friendships, work, and school. There is still room for the things of lesser importance, represented by the sand, such as hobbies and good recreation. There is also still room for things of the least importance, represented by the water, such as playing games on our smart phones and watching videos on Youtube about cats doing funny things. In fact, all these other things that fit in our jar of life along with Jesus are transformed for the good, they become “touched” by Christ, just as the pebbles, sand and water touch the large rock. There is one final lesson the analogy teaches us and this is the central point of today’s gospel. As long as we put the big rock in the jar first, there is room for everything else. But, if we put in other things into the jar first, then there is no room for the rock. If we fill our lives first with things – whether they be of great or little importance - there will be no room for Christ. When this happens, these things become like that elastic band tied to our back. They prevent us from making much progress in following Jesus. The message of Jesus in today’s gospel is that He must always take first priority in our life.
Today is a great opportunity to examine what takes priority in our life and makes changes if necessary. At the start of this new school year we have a great chance to ask ourselves the question: what is filling the jar of my life? Is my life filled with water, with sand or with pebbles? Is there room for Christ in my life? There are practical ways that we can give Christ priority in our life. Something that I would like recommend, something I myself find helpful, is a prayer called the “Morning Offering”. I say this prayer first thing each morning. When my alarm goes off I literally roll out of bed, kneel down and pray this prayer:
Dear Jesus, through the most pure heart of Mary, I offer you all my works, joys, sufferings and prayers this day, for all the intentions of your Most Divine heart, in union with all the Holy Masses being offered throughout the world, I offer you my heart, make it meek and humble like yours.
The exact words don’t really matter. The important thing is that you start each day by putting Jesus first and offering everything else you do to Him. It is a chance each morning to first put Jesus in the jar of our life, all else can then follow. Today we have a great chance to evaluate and change if necessary what takes priority in our life.
I would encourage each one of us to make the Morning Offering a habit in our life. In this way we can try more and more to put Jesus at the center of our lives and cut any of the bands that hold us back from walking along the path to follow Him.