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Following Jesus

My Odyssey to the Old Rugged Cross

March 11, 2016 by

Pin your ear to the wisdom post
Pin your eye to the line
Never let the weeds get higher
Than the garden
Always keep a sapphire in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind
—Tom Waits, “Get Behind The Mule”

It’s probably been a while since most of us felt compelled to crack open a book of Greek mythology, but one recent rainy Saturday, browsing the comic section of my local library, I flipped through a graphic novel version of The Odyssey by Homer.

You probably are familiar with it; an adventure story about a heroic man named Odysseus and his boat trip home from fighting in the Trojan War – a trip that should have taken only a month but took ten years. It’s a good lesson in staying focused, since his crew runs into a lot of trouble and distractions and are constantly tempted to abandon the journey home in exchange for a life of laziness and leisure. Many times they give into this and go way off course. But even when they fail, Odysseus never loses his longing for his original destination – his wife and home – and eventually gets back on track one way or another. The story’s intriguing: full of trickery, monsters, peculiar characters, and heroic deeds.

One escapade they survived reminded me of something in Proverbs:

Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.
—Proverbs 4:25–27

Odysseus and his crew are sailing near the dreaded island of the Sirens, creatures who were very mischievous and loved to distract sailors with their hypnotic singing. This would cause the sailors to abandon their duties and let their ships drift carelessly onto the deadly rocks. Odysseus had warning of these ladies and knew they were bad news, so he had all of his sailors plug their ears with beeswax. To protect himself, he ordered his crew to tie him tightly to the mast so only he could hear. He told his men to leave him tied until the danger was past, no matter how much he might beg to be let go.

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Illustration of the story of Odysseus by Jason Landsel

Illustration by Jason Landsel

This binding yourself to the mast to resist temptations and calamity is not unique to the ancient Greeks. Ever heard the words “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7–8)? We can only resist sin by binding ourselves to Jesus. Sin detaches us from God; sin brings us onto the rocks, the root of this life’s troubles. But the good news is that we’re promised a wonderful rescue and reunification when we return to him. There’s a classic hymn that goes:

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

That’s the meaning of Easter: the acknowledgement, recognized again each year, of my complete reliance on Jesus alone, and the acceptance that I’m a sinner, only rescued by God’s grace. Only then can I lay down the rag with which I anxiously polish all my alleged spiritual trophies. There’s real freedom in that.

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About the author

Jason Landsel

Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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