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Bible Reflections View Comments

Loyalty, Honor, and a Willing Heart
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013
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When the first installment of The Hobbit movie hit theaters last winter, I saw it several times. The story of Thorin Oakenshield was expanded from the book, and one of the things I noticed was the emphasis on the group of twelve dwarves who had joined him on his quest to regain their ancestral kingdom. He had asked many others of their kin, all of whom declined the invitation. But he said, “I would take each and every one of these Dwarves over an army from the Iron Hills. For when I called upon them, they answered. Loyalty. Honor. A willing heart... I can ask no more than that.”

Thorin, like all tragic heroes, is a flawed leader, a man who can’t let go of a desire for revenge, who can’t forgive those who destroyed his people. But we see glimmers of hope in the lessons he learns. We can’t fault his courage and determination. He’s not a metaphor for Jesus by a long stretch, but his followers exhibit some of the characteristics of the twelve apostles, all of whom had their weaknesses, but nevertheless were willing to say yes.

Jesus tells the gathered crowd that they need to be willing to carry a heavy cross if they’re going to continue to follow him. He’s laying out the consequences for those who need to know the cost of something before they begin. The planners, the strategists, the cautious ones are the ones who nod knowingly at the stories of the builder left with an unfinished tower or the commander facing impossible odds on the battlefield.

Jesus reminds his followers that if they can’t bear the idea of the cross, they’ll never be able to bear the real thing. And bear it they must. He’s asking nothing less than everything. But at some point, following Jesus is a glorious leap of faith. Jesus wasn’t so much telling them to make a rational, calculated decision as he was warning them that the going was going to get a lot rougher than they imagined. He didn’t want them to follow him blindly, to delude themselves with dreams of easy victory and earthly triumph.

Faith, like so much of a life, is a constant swinging back and forth between caution and risk, between moving forward and then taking time to stop and consider where we are. There are times when we need to launch ourselves into the future God seems to be holding before us. At other times, we need to gather our resources for the long haul.

Counting the cost isn’t always the best way to approach our lives. How often have you heard someone say, “If I had known what the outcome would be, I never would have started.” And yet, they’re not sorry they did. When they look back, they see that somehow through God’s grace they found the strength to keep going, to see something through, to discover the new life on the other side of the abyss.

The goal of following Jesus is not a profitable corporation, a successful military campaign or a well-constructed building. The goal is the resurrection won by his victory over death, a victory that was far more of a high-stakes gamble than a well-oiled machine. Jesus’s first and best followers through the ages—Peter, James, John, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, John the XXIII, Teresa of Calcutta—often jumped first and asked questions later. They knew that trusting the Spirit was far more important than worrying about the weight of the cross.

Jesus calls us to respond to his call with loyalty, honor, and a willing heart. Everything else can come later.


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Louis of France: At his coronation as king of France, Louis IX bound himself by oath to behave as God’s anointed, as the father of his people and feudal lord of the King of Peace. Other kings had done the same, of course. Louis was different in that he actually interpreted his kingly duties in the light of faith. After the violence of two previous reigns, he brought peace and justice. 
<p>He was crowned king at 12, at his father’s death. His mother, Blanche of Castile, ruled during his minority. When he was 19 and his bride 12, he was married to Marguerite of Provence. It was a loving marriage, though not without challenge. They had 11 children. </p><p>Louis “took the cross” for a Crusade when he was 30. His army seized Damietta ini Egypt but not long after, weakened by dysentery and without support, they were surrounded and captured. Louis obtained the release of the army by giving up the city of Damietta in addition to paying a ransom. He stayed in Syria four years. </p><p>He deserves credit for extending justice in civil administration. His regulations for royal officials became the first of a series of reform laws. He replaced trial by battle with a form of examination of witnesses and encouraged the use of written records in court. </p><p>Louis was always respectful of the papacy, but defended royal interests against the popes and refused to acknowledge Innocent IV’s sentence against Emperor Frederick II. </p><p>Louis was devoted to his people, founding hospitals, visiting the sick and, like his patron St. Francis (October 4), caring even for people with leprosy. (He is one of the patrons of the Secular Franciscan Order.) Louis united France—lords and townsfolk, peasants and priests and knights—by the force of his personality and holiness. For many years the nation was at peace. </p><p>Every day Louis had 13 special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace. During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal, and Louis often served them in person. He kept lists of needy people, whom he regularly relieved, in every province of his dominion. </p><p>Disturbed by new Muslim advances in Syria, he led another crusade in 1267, at the age of 41. His crusade was diverted to Tunis for his brother’s sake. The army was decimated by disease within a month, and Louis himself died on foreign soil at the age of 44. He was canonized 27 years later.</p> American Catholic Blog God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty. <br />–St. John of the Cross

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