Eyes Wide Open

Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure:
Married in haste, we may repent at leisure.

–William Congreve, The Old Batchelour (1693)–

Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards.

–Ben Franklin–

As a Catholic student at Moravian College (Bethlehem, PA), in the late 1970s, in addition to attending weekly Mass, I would sometimes find myself in the pews of Central Moravian Church or the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.  In the former house of worship, I was always inspired by great music.  In the latter, I always heard fine preaching.

On one occasion, I had the privilege of hearing the Reverend Keith Brown, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, tell the following story.  I cannot remember his exact words, but the gist of his narrative went something like this:

            When I proposed marriage to the woman I loved, she immediately and unhesitatingly said YES.  I was overjoyed.  When I got home that evening, however, my conscience smote me.  Perhaps, I thought, my new fiancée did not know what she was getting herself into.  Maybe she hadn’t read all the fine print in my personality.  So what did I do?  Before going to bed, I phoned my beloved and gave her every reason I could think of as to why she shouldn’t marry me.  She simply laughed and said I wasn’t getting out of it that easily.  My wife and I have been happy ever since.

            I cannot recall the text on which Reverend Brown preached, but I believe his charming anecdote sheds divine light on Our Lord’s warnings in Mark 8:19-22:

“Then a Scribe came and said to him, ‘Master, I will follow thee wherever thou goest.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’  And another, who was one of his disciples, said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’”

            It sounds as if Jesus is trying to dissuade people from following Him.  Yet I do not believe this is the case.  I think Jesus wants to have followers even more ardently than Reverend Keith Brown wanted to marry his wife.  Like Pastor Brown, however, Our Lord wants us to love Him with our eyes wide open.  Jesus does desire disciples to bear his gentle yoke (Matthew 11:28-30), but before we are “yoked together” with Him (Isn’t that, by the way, the literal meaning of the word conjugal?), He wants us to know in no uncertain terms that discipleship involves hardship, sacrifice, and the severing of earthly ties.   Jesus loves us so much that He will have us under no false pretenses.  His love, just like that of Pastor Keith Brown for his beloved wife, will not deceive.

If we persevere in this love, we too will be happy forever.

Reverend Keith Brown

3 September 2012

Dear Bernard,

Your letter was a wonderful encouragement to me – as a preaching pastor and as one who wants to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.  It’s so nice/affirming to know that something I had the privilege of preaching was helpful to another of God’s servants.  Thank you for sharing your “spiritual reflection” with me.

You asked that I check your remarks as to accuracy and theological orthodoxy.  I’m happy to say that your memory of my exchange with my wife prior to marriage is amazingly accurate (I cannot remember my sermon illustrations as well as you have).

And your application of this love story to Jesus’ honesty with His disciples so that they might know the “cost of discipleship” (Bonhoeffer) is insightful and helpful.  Well done!

I am honored to have you mention my story in your reflection.