In the 19th Century, there was a man whose friend made a strange bet with him. His friend bet that he could walk across a high wire over Niagara Falls pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks. The guy was a bit concerned about the bet, but he made it, and made sure the money was in a safe place before the event. The guy was out there to see for himself, and although he thought he’d win the bet, he didn’t want to lose his friend.
Well, the guy gets on the high wire with the wheelbarrow full of bricks and begins walking across, slowly but surely. After a while, he disappears in the mist but after a while he’s seeing coming back, walking confidently pushing the wheelbarrow. When he gets to the other side, he calls to his friend: “Do you believe I can push a wheelbarrow of bricks across Niagara Falls now?”
“Do you really believe it?”
The guy dumps out the bricks and shouts: “Get in!”
Would you get in? Don’t think I’d get in, however it wouldn’t be completely crazy. After all, the guy just proved he could do it, and the view would have to be fantastic. Even though you know you’d be all right, it would still be a scary trip, and only a very brave person could make it.
What might happen scares a lot of folks away from things they know they can do, should do. Jeremiah was tempted to give up his mission, and at times like the first readings today, we can understand why. The Kingdom of Judah was playing an international power game: Babylon and Egypt were at war and Judah was in the middle. They sided with Babylon at first, after the Babylonians came and took away their king, putting Zedekiah on the throne, but when the great war came, Zedekiah decided to switch sides. After Babylon defeated Egypt, they stopped to settle accounts with Zedekiah on the way home, besieging Jerusalem. He and his court believed they were in an impregnable fortress, and God would save them even though no matter what they did. Jeremiah was commissioned by God to tell them they were on the wrong path, and if they kept it up, God wouldn’t save them from their own bad choices.
Jeremiah didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but he had no choice: the spirit of God was upon him so strongly he just couldn’t hold it in. It meant he acquired enemies: people were out to get him because he was demoralizing the troops during a war, and they talked the king into throwing him into a dry cistern to die. He also had friends, who talked the wishy-washy king into pulling him out. Jeremiah stayed firm in faith through tough times, and survived the war, still true to the spirit of God within him.
The Spirit of God is within us, but sometimes our journey of faith can look like a wheelbarrow ride over the falls on a tightrope. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel today that following him doesn’t mean we’re going to be popular, rich or successful. There’s a cost of discipleship we have to pay, and we could find ourselves alienated from people we care about for what we believe and what we do. In some places in the world, being a Christian puts your life in danger: people are dying in Egypt, Syria and other places for what we believe. We see and hear things that may frighten us, or cause us to doubt who we are and what we believe.
However, we know Jesus is pushing the wheelbarrow. We can be scared by what we see around us, or we can look at the great view and feel the overwhelming beauty of God’s love surging around us. We know Jesus gives us everything, He gives us himself in the Eucharist, and we’ll get to the other side all right if we don’t get out of the wheelbarrow of Faith: Faith is the most important thing in our lives. We don’t have to be afraid of bad news, afraid to read anything, afraid of anything we might see. We know who’s in charge and we know what our destination is. If we hang on to our Faith, just like Jeremiah did, we will get to the other side, no matter what or who may be against us. And we just might enjoy the scenery as we ride over the Falls.