June 20, 2004
If you know the rules for the game of checkers, they will help you follow Jesus’ command in today’s gospel. The command is clear. We are to take up our cross daily and follow him. If we are to be a disciple of Christ, we must follow in his footsteps. Moreover, as Luke makes explicit in today’s gospel, we must follow daily. But how do we do that? In what does following Jesus consist? What kind of decisions do we need to make? What kind of patterns do we need to establish so that on a daily basis we can follow the master? Here is where checkers can help.
A group of young Jewish seminary students were supposed to be studying the Torah, God’s law. But instead they were playing checkers. The rabbi came into the room unexpectedly. The embarrassed boys put the game away and went back to their books. The rabbi, however, saw an opportunity for a lesson. “Students,” he said, “there is no part of God’s creation that cannot reveal to us the ways of righteousness. There is nothing which God has created that cannot point to us how we are to follow God’s ways. So it is with the three rules of checkers. The first rule is that you cannot make two moves at once. The second rule is that you must always move forward not backward. The third rule is that once you reach the last row, you can move in whatever direction you wish.” With that the rabbi left the room. Now the students were at first confused over their master’s words. Soon, however, they realized that he had taught that if they were to follow God’s will, they should live each day with focus, forgiveness, and compassion.
We who are called to be disciples of Jesus, would do well to imitate those same three qualities in our desire to follow him. We should try to live each day with focus. Instead of making many moves in many directions, we should determine which one move is most important and make it. There are so many opportunities in life, so many possibilities, so many desires, so many dreams. The secret to happiness is to discover which of these many possibilities is the most important, and then each day take a step towards it. Our relationships, our family, our integrity are too important to become lost in a confusion of conflicting directions. We must determine one move, the most important one, and then implement it. Our lives must have focus if we are to follow Christ.
We must also practice forgiveness. None of us are perfect. We all fail in many ways. Yet the challenge of life is to move forward. The only way to move forward is to regularly forgive ourselves and forgive others, to let go of the mistakes so that we can move on. We are called to move forward rather than look backwards over what might have been. Guilt and regret do not contribute to a healthy life. They only hold us back. It is only by regular forgiveness that we can move forward and thereby follow Christ.
Finally, those who wish to follow Christ must be people of compassion. We must realize that life is not only about ourselves and our own needs. Disciples of Jesus identify with the feeling of others and extend themselves to the needs of others. It is only when we reach the last row and place the needs of others before our own that we will find satisfaction. To follow Christ we must be men and women of compassion, willing to be comfortable in the last row. Finding that last row will give us the ultimate freedom to move however we wish in the service of others.
Make one move at a time. Always move forward. Find the freedom that comes from taking the last row. These three rules of checkers reveal a pattern by which we can follow God’s ways, a guide by which we can carry our cross after Jesus. Now to be sure, there are other qualities of discipleship and other traits that we should instill in our lives, but these three qualities are an essential starting point. If we could live each day with focus, with forgiveness, and with compassion, not only would we be following the master, we would be winning the game, saving our soul, and attaining true happiness both here and in life hereafter.