Walking A Tight Rope of Belief
One of the first full-fledged celebrities in America was a tightrope walker named Charles Blondin. In the mid-1800s he wowed everyone. Abraham Lincoln even mentioned the Great Blondin in a couple of his campaign speeches.
It’s June 30, 1859 and Blondin was attempting what no one had done. He was going to cross the Niagara Falls from New York to Ontario on a tightrope. Some records say a 100,000 people show up. Blondin asks the crowd if they believe he could cross. Some shout “We believe!” Some say, “Pass the popcorn.” But there he goes: crossing the 1,100 foot expanse, over the churning waters 160 feet below him.
Blondin makes it across, no problem. The crowd is abuzz — they just witnessed the impossible. So when asked if they believe Blondin could cross blindfolded, the crowd gets into it a little more, “Yes, we believe!” Blondin does it. A third time he asks the crowd, “Do you believe I can cross pushing a wheelbarrow?” (And it’s a wobbly, wooden 1850’s wheelbarrow!) But he does it again. People go nuts. Women take out their smelling salts.
Finally, Blondin pulls out all the stops. “Do you believe the Great Blondin can cross the Niagara?… (yes! yes!) pushing the wheelbarrow? …(yes! yes! we saw it with our own eyes!? with a man in it?” The crowd in a fervor chants back, “We believe! We believe! We believe!”
“And now… who will get in the wheelbarrow?”
Silence. Crickets. “Anyone? Hello? Anyone?”
No one in the crowd of tens of thousands fans– who moments before shouted, “We believe, we believe!”– offered to get into the wheelbarrow.
Belief is more than stirred-up emotions. Belief is more than intellectual assent. To truly Believe, to truly trust, is to put our life on the line and getting into Jesus’ wheelbarrow when asked.
It’s easy to join Blondin’s crowd and holler “we believe!” Its in our creed, it is proclaimed in our sanctuaries week after week. But will we die to self, risk our life and go out on Jesus’ word. The ruler had to let go of his grasp on the situation. He had to take that long walk back to his son even when he didn’t know what would happen next. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
Lets look at the context of today's gospel:
It all starts two chapters earlier, back in Cana, when Jesus does his first sign,which was changing the water into wine and because of the sign, it says in John chapter 2 verse 11, “his disciples believed in him." Then Jesus goes down to Jerusalem for Passover where, in chapter 2:23, “many believed in his name, seeing his signs which he did…But Jesus did not trust himself unto them, for that he knew all men (he knew what they were like)” In contrast, while on his way back to Galilee, a whole Samaritan town put their faith in him, not because of signs, but (vs. 41) “because of his word.” The text emphasizes this verse: “We now believe, not for thy saying (the Samaritan woman at the well) : for we ourselves have heard him, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world. (John 4:42.)
Jesus just gets back to his own neck of the Galilee woods and people are welcoming him. But John presents the welcome with suspicion (vs. 44). Why? Because the welcome is based on the miraculous–“having seen all the things he had done at Jerusalem.”
The gospel writer is clearly calling his readers to examine their belief. Is our faith based on the spectacular, the eye-catching, the crowd-pleasing? Or is it based on the hearing of the word? True faith in Christ does not come from seeing, true faith comes by hearing the word and then obeying the word. We see this when Jesus says to Saint Thomas, "blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed." (John 20:29) also when Saint Paul says in Romans, "Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)
Let me repeat my question. Is your belief, is your faith, based on the spectacular, the eye catching, the crowd pleasing? Is it based on what we are getting out of it? Is it based on the ideal that as long as I am seeing that I am getting what I want or what I think I need, I will believe? If so, what happens when Jesus’ work reveals the opposite–when it’s about mundane obedience, or suffering, or the repulsiveness of the cross? To put it another way: what happens to our faith when it must be grounded in the ear and not the eye?
I mentioned the the Nicene Creed a few minutes ago. It says:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. And born of the Father, before all ages. God of God: Light of Light: true God of true God. Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven. And became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary: and was made man. He was crucified also for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end.
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Who together, with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets. And in one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the world to come. Amen.
When we say "Amen" Not only are we saying that we believe, we are saying that it is true. You see, whether we believe it or not does not make it true or untrue. The creed is very much true. Its not true because we SAW the Father almighty or that we SAW Jesus become incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. It is true because God says it is true. The creed is not true because we SAW Jesus was crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilot, and was buried. it is true because God says it is true. "We walk by faith and not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7)
We did not by sight SEE that Jesus rose again on the third day or that He ascended into heaven, or that he sitteth at the right hand of the Father. We believe these things because faith cometh by hearing and hearing by what the scriptures says, what Gods Word says.
In the Mass, just before the creed, The Gospel is read and then the Priest says, "By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out." We hear the gospel...."faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17)
Then the creed is said. Everything in the creed we can find in the gospels that we we hear every Sunday. So then once we hear the gospel, then we acknowledge that we believe all that the gospels say by proclaiming the creed "For if thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Romans 10: 9)
After the creed is said, the Priest kisses the altar which has two meanings. One, is to venerate the altar as a symbol of Christ sacrifice, but also as being the place where the faithful offer their bodies as a "living sacrifice.". I BESEECH you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)
We see the exact same thing with the ruler:
He heard: He having HEARD that Jesus was come from Judea into Galilee, went to him, and prayed him to come down, and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. (John 4:47)
He believed: Jesus saith to him: Go thy way; thy son liveth. The man BELIEVED the word which Jesus said to him, and went his way. (John 4:50)
He became a living sacrifice: The man believed the word which Jesus said to him, and WENT HIS WAY (John 4:50) What was his way? The way of the cross.
You see, he began the most agonizing turn back. The official had planned to get Jesus to come with him. But “best laid plans often go astray.” He didn’t get what he planned. What he got was Jesus’ word.
Can you see the ruler as a father, heart pounding, on that journey back saying “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Each step forward becomes the prayer of every disciple: “Lord, increase my faith!” (Luke 17:5).
It’s a good prayer, for “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)
What is revealed in this text happens all through Scripture and will happen all through each of our lives as we surrender our life, our years, our months, our days our hours our minutes and even our seconds to God. God has us move out on faith, without any real certainty, not knowing what is going to happen, without having the miracle yet. But moving out as if we did. Moving out on just His Word.
By the way Only two people ever did come forward –years later- to put their lives in the hands of Blondin’s abilities. Blondin’s manager, Harry Colcord, was carried across the Niagara Fall on Blondin’s back and Blondin’s nephew himself actually got into the wheelbarrow and was wheeled across. What do both of these have in common? A relationship with Blondin. A stranger never laid it all on the line.
Do you have that kind of relationship with Christ? Have you laid it all on the line?
- Are you listening when God speaks to you? Or do you have selective hearing?
- Do believe what God says? Or are you twisting the scriptures to your own liking?
- Have you forsaken your own wants and desires and trusting in Christ will for your life?
The Gospels say that Jesus knew what was in the heart of every man. Let us ask him to reveal what is in our hearts. If we see anything that should not be there. Listen, believe it, enter into the confessional and confess it, truly praying, as a living sacrifice before God, the act of contrition.