Updated: Oct 10, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
Back in the late 90’s, there was a sci-fi film called, Gattaca; an underrated movie for its time, I feel. The story takes place in a fictional future, where one’s occupation in life was determined at conception.
In that society, children were conceived through genetic selection, so that they inherited the best traits of their parents. The protagonist of the film is a young man named Vincent, played by Ethan Hawke, who was conceived outside the eugenics program, and struggles to overcome genetic discrimination to achieve his dream of traveling to space.
Vincent has a younger brother named Anton, who is genetically superior to him. As children, Vincent would often lose to Anton in a game of chicken, when they would swim out as far as they could in the ocean; the loser was the one who turned back first.
In their teen years, there comes a point when Vincent beats Anton in that contest, which gives him the courage to leave behind the horizons of his life to date, and pursue a future beyond the boundaries set for him by societal standards.
Near the end of the movie, as Vincent is close to achieving his ambitions, there’s a surprising reunion between the brothers; and Anton, resentful of his brother’s achievements, challenges Vincent to one last game of chicken.
And so, in a climactic scene, we see the two brothers once again swim out from the shore in the dead of the night. Like their previous encounter, the supposedly genetically superior Anton begins to lose. With no shore left in sight, Anton’s will wavers, and he calls out to his brother: “How are you doing this, Vincent? How have you done any of this? We have to go back.”
Vincent responds: “It’s too late for that; we’re closer to the other side.”—“What other side,” Anton cries out. “Do you want to drown us both?”
To which, Vincent responds: “You want to know how I did it, Anton? This is how I did it. I never saved anything for the swim back.” Anton turns back and begins to drown, but Vincent rescues him and swims them both back to shore.
That one line stuck with me for a while many years ago: “This is how I did it. I never saved anything for the swim back.” It pulled together the entire film; and it communicated a message of the power of not holding back; of having focus, commitment, and resolve in the pursuit of a higher goal.
In our gospel passage, Jesus asked the crowds: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower doesn’t first calculate the cost to see if there’s enough for its completion? … Or what king marching into battle wouldn’t first decide whether or not he has enough troops to secure him victory? … In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
In other words, if I am going to undertake any challenge, I must be ready to commit all the resources necessary for its fulfillment. And if my ambition is to be Christ’s disciple, then I must go all-in. Half-measures and half-hearted attempts will fail. Discipleship to Jesus Christ will cost me everything. If I want to enter into the kingdom of heaven, then I must have the resolve to sacrifice everything to achieve that ambition.
This is a constant theme in the teachings of Jesus. Today, we hear one expression of the necessity for commitment, sacrifice, and resolve—pick your synonym—but there are many others.
The parables of the pearl of great price and the treasure buried in the field are examples of this. In both instances, the merchants had the resolve to sell all that they had in order to acquire the pearl and field, respectively.
When speaking of worldly possessions, Jesus would ask his disciples: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his life?” When speaking about sin and the body, Jesus said: “Better to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell; and better for you to enter into life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.” When watching the crowds put money into the Temple treasury, Jesus praised a poor widow above all others, because she sacrificed her entire livelihood.
Through a parable, Jesus rebuked a landowner who saved great wealth for himself, but was poor in what mattered to God. He expressed disappointment over the rich young man who chose his wealth over discipleship. He spoke of striving through the narrow gate. He taught about being resolved in prayer. He compared foolish and wise virgins; the wise were those who spent their wealth for lamp oil sufficient to wait for the groom’s arrival.
I could go on. Today’s gospel passage challenges each of us to really question our resolve: Do I have what it takes to be a real disciple of Jesus? What have I sacrificed to be his disciple? What am I willing to sacrifice?” To use our Lord’s examples, like someone building a tower or going to war, do I have enough resources to enter into the kingdom of God? Have I committed those resources to this challenge?
Jesus never asks more of us than he is willing to commit himself. When we look upon a Cross, we see his resolve. We see how committed he is for our salvation. We see what he held back—nothing. Does your resolve and mine look like this?
The Tower of Babel, by Peter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1563.