Two of the books that I have chosen for my summer reading deal with higher education and the difficulties connected with that effort in the modern era. Both have offered me helpful insights into the world that I reside in for most of the year. I have also seen how some of the thoughts move outside the University and into the broader context in which we all live.
One book starts with a folk proverb of an unknown origin. It states: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.” The wisdom of that statement grows on me as I continue to think about it. It suggests to me the need for a broad education. Our children need exposure to a wide range of opinions, positions and persons. They need to be able to think critically, to listen carefully, and to speak respectfully. When we try to limit what they read, to control whom they meet, and to restrict what they feel, we attempt to create the road that lies before them. This does not prepare them for the reality of the world that stretches in front and all around them. The proper education demands that we make our children strong and capable of dealing with a world that they do not control in any ultimate way. I grasp the wisdom of this assertion.
When I move the lesson outside the University environment and begin to apply it to my own life and ministry, I find myself in an examination of conscience. I can make it too easy to control that which I allow to be part of my life—what I watch or who captures my ear. We have experienced how standard that becomes in the current national climate. However, I was thinking more about the way in which I preach the Gospel and how others hear the proclamation.
Just listen, for example, to the challenge that Jesus offers in a recent Gospel, and the way in which the hearers try to negotiate their own paths.
And to another [Jesus] said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But [Jesus] answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”(Lk 9:59-62)
We can point to instances when Jesus puts the challenge out there to follow him, and those gathered are not ready to take it up. Remember the “rich young man,” those who cannot accept his teaching, and those who disagree with his actions. Following the Lord puts demands upon people in the ways in which they think of their neighbors and enemies, in the willingness to forgive and seek forgiveness, and in a host of other ways.
The lesson that becomes clear for me centers on my need to hear and preach the Gospel with clarity and force. Causing the Scripture to fit my own thinking stifles the movement of the Holy Spirit. So many of the words of Jesus summon me and us to conversion and a newness of life. The message does not need to be changed. Our hearts and hands need to be prepared for the road that stretches ahead of us and leads to the Lord.