It is interesting how God speaks to us. This past week I was on retreat at a Jesuit retreat house. For me, a retreat is a time for quiet, prayer, reading and walking. (I walk a lot on retreats.) On one of these walks, I came across a little bench given to the retreat center in memory of a deceased Jesuit priest. On the bench was engraved a saying that, I am guessing, this Jesuit was known for. The saying is, “If the horse is dead, it is prudent to dismount.” (Fr. Bob Hanlon, S.J.) Jesuit wisdom at its finest!
There is wisdom in the saying. How much of our time and energy do we spend trying to ride dead horses? If we are nursing a grudge or a grievance, we are trying to ride a dead horse. If we are comfortable in a habit of sin, we are trying to ride a dead horse. If we are holding on to a prejudice, we are trying to ride a dead horse. If we give in to the voices of negativity and doubt in our lives, we are trying to ride a dead horse. If we take pleasure in gossip, we are trying to ride a dead horse. If we are active in an addiction, we are trying to ride a dead horse. If we need to control persons and situations, we are trying to ride a dead horse. There are many ways of trying to ride a dead horse.
There is wisdom in the saying. A good examination for each of us is asking the question: what are the dead horses in my life that I am trying to ride and is now the time to dismount?
The gospel for this Sunday is not easy (Lk. 12:49-53). Jesus … a source of division and not peace? This does not seem right. Jesus does not come to sow discord but, as we are told elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus fully understands human nature. Jesus comes to bring new and true life but he knows our weakness in sin. Some will accept this call to new life and some will fight and kick against it.
Jesus comes to each of us – in love and in truth – and says, “It is time to stop trying to ride that dead horse.” Not only does he say “it is time”, he gives us the grace – he is the grace – to dismount and to walk away from the dead horse into the newness of true life.
Because of this we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “…let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us (in other words, “Get off that dead horse!”) and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…”
Jesus calls us to rid ourselves of sin and he gives us (each of us) the grace to persevere in running the race – the grace of the sacraments, the grace of Holy Scripture, the life of Christian community, the discipline of prayer, the call to serve and the call to carry our own crosses. These are the graces given in order to persevere. Hebrews gives us further wisdom; when we are discouraged and down – consider Jesus and all that he endured, we have not yet resisted, “to the point of shedding blood.”
Jesus does not come to sow discord. Jesus comes to brings new and true life but he also knows well our human nature.
“If the horse is dead, it is prudent to dismount.” (Fr. Bob Hanson, S.J. – may he rest in peace)