Monday, August 6, 2012

The Most to Lose

Hannah and I have been working through the television series M*A*S*H since last December and are nearing the end of the eleven-season show. Watching it in the original broadcast order, as opposed to seeing it on TV-Land like when I was a kid, allows us to see how the show progressed and the characters developed over time. Hawkeye, the main character, has gone from a womanizing goof-off to become much more serious and jaded. BJ Hunnicutt, who came as a light-hearted and positive character, has been developing a very short temper, and news from home typically sets him off into a deep depression and he becomes very obsessive and erratic.

In the most recent episode we saw Hunnicutt gets a letter from home where his wife tells him she’s getting a job as a waitress. It seems the military doesn’t pay as well as a private medical practice, and his mortgage and student loan debt require her to assist the family. Hunnicutt gets very upset over this news. His children, who were just babies when he left for Korea, are growing up without him, and now he fears they have to grow up without a mother at home as well. He starts gambling in an attempt to win the money he needs to pay off his debts to his wife can stay at home. He raises the stakes far beyond what their typical poker games go for, and he actually wins. Eventually he tries gambling over change, trying to milk every last penny from the people around him, growing more and more obsessive until he’s confronted by Hawkeye and the head nurse, Major Houlihan.

Hunnicutt launches into a tirade against his friends. They don’t have spouses. They don’t have children. And when the war is over they can go back to the lives they left. But he’s never going to get that time back with his wife and children. He’s missing their childhood, and they’re missing a husband and father. Houlihan comes back at Hunnicutt saying, “How dare you think your brand of suffering is worse than anyone else's! Maybe you do have the most to lose but that's only because you've got the most!”

The episode ends with Hunnicutt apologizing to his friends and everyone sharing some of his wife’s rum cookies—free of charge.

I was really struck by Houlihan’s rebuke of Hunnicutt, “Maybe you do have the most to lose but that's only because you've got the most!”

Jesus could have said the same thing to the rich young ruler. He could have said it to us. I am always amazed at the story of Antony of Egypt who, upon hearing the reading of the story of the rich young ruler, sold everything he owned and gave the proceeds to the poor. Though he became a hermit of sorts, his reaction to Jesus’ call to sell all and follow Him is striking. His story even played a part in the conversion of Augustine.

Every time I hear Jesus’ call to sell all, give to the poor, and follow Him, I struggle. I realize His call was to a specific individual at a specific point in time, but that doesn’t mean He wouldn’t call me to do the same. It’s hard to think about that. I have a wife and child. I’m about to sign a 30-year mortgage. I have a fairly secure job and a regular paycheck. I have much to lose, maybe even “the most to lose.”

Yet, I’ve known for a long time that I desire to serve in ministry overseas. Depending on how God directs and my seminary classes go, I could be there by the time I’m thirty. I’d likely face a big pay cut with a bigger family to support than I have now. I stand to lose much. But that’s only because I’ve got the most.

We all need to examine ourselves and ask if we should really cling to the worldly wealth when God calls us to give. A healthy donation from my estate after I die will not do anything for God’s kingdom right now. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Paul said, “I die every day” (1 Cor. 15:31). A dead man has nothing to lose.

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