One terribly foggy, stormy night at sea, a ship's captain catches sight of what looks like the lights of another ship heading directly towards him. He orders his signalman to relay a message to the oncoming ship: “Change your course ten degrees to the south!” Immediately comes a response: “Change your course ten degrees to the north!” The lights are getting quickly closer, so the ship's captain responds firmly: “I'm a captain. Change your course south.” But the reply is equally firm: “I'm a seaman first class. Change your course north!”
Outraged at such insolence as the oncoming lights loom nearer and larger, the captain fires back the message: “You idiot! I'm giving you one last chance to change your course south. I'm on a United States naval battleship!” To which the captain receives this equally determined reply, “I'm giving you one last chance to change your course north. I'm on a Coast Guard lighthouse!”
How easy it is for us humans to misunderstand, deny or ignore what's right in front of our eyes.
How easy it is to ignore the “lighthouses” in our lives, the guidance and direction God sends our way. How hard it is for us to change the direction of our lives, even if it's just a few degrees 'to the north.'
Today's Gospel ends with some chilling words. It says: Jesus “doesn't entrust his life to these people. He knew them all too well. He knew they were not yet worthy of his trust.” Do these words of Jesus make us a little nervous? They should! We all do have a dark side. We start sinning when we are very young. With the passage of time we each develop our own particular habits of mean thoughts, insulting words, hurtful behaviors. Over time, the result of all this is the damaged hearts that Jesus sees with perfect clarity this morning in each of us – no fog here!
So why doesn't Jesus simply wash his hands of the whole lot of us? Because he doesn't just see our sinfulness. With equal clarity, he sees the good we do and want to do, the regret for our sinful ways, our longing for wholeness, and very importantly our willingness to change course. So he stays with us and continues to guide and help us. He forgives us and embraces us with compassion.
What does Jesus ask in return? He asks that we have the same compassion and forgiveness in our own lives towards people in need, whoever the people are, and whatever their needs may be. Compassion is not an option, nor is forgiveness. We give it to others freely because Jesus gives it to us freely.
The bottom line is: we are the captains of our ship. We are the ones who decide the direction to proceed in our lives, whether or not to be compassionate and forgiving. And best of all, it doesn't have to be an enormous degree change of direction. Like the seaman first class says, just 'ten degrees north' – not a huge change on our spiritual compass, but a most important change nevertheless!