One ruffed grouse follower

On our vacation this bird started following us.  We were bushwhacking from the campground down a ridge to where we knew there was a creek.  We were hoping for some good photos.  On the way, my husband suddenly stopped: “Look at this bird!”  And there walking in the leaves was a game bird, which we later identified as a ruffed grouse. It paced back and forth, pranced on a fallen branch, made soft throat noises and seemed to be enjoying (an anthropomorphic conclusion if there ever was one) the fact that it had my husband’s undivided attention. 
After about ten minutes and dozens of photographs, we decided to move on.  Low and behold, this bird started following us.  It followed us down the ridge.  It followed us through the creek’s bottom-land weeds, although whenever possible it tried to walk off the soggy ground on fallen logs.  The grouse seemed in its glory when it was lightly hopping along side of us while we, on the other hand, laboriously scrambled on all fours up the slope, hefting our bodies upwards by grabbing onto roots and trunks.  Often the bird was so camouflaged in the brown dead leaves that we couldn’t see it.  But if we got still, we would soon hear its strange soft whine nearby, almost like a whimpering dog.

After traveling for over an hour, the three of  us made it back to the edge of the campground.  Rick waited with the bird while I ran to the camper to get some peanuts, some bread, some cereal.  We figured it was likely that a summer seasonal camper had half-raised it.  We put the food on the ground and it went after the peanuts and some of the bread, but after an experimental toss, left the bran flakes alone.  Slowly we walked back to the trailer, half hoping that it might keep following us the short way through the almost empty campground, but it would go no farther.  Later that afternoon sitting outside reading, I kept listening for it in the leaves near our trailer, but it  never reappeared.

So in Mark 10:17-31, the scripture for Sunday, a man came running up to ask Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He obviously was longing for something more.  For Jewish people at the time, eternal life was not necessarily a place to go when you die.  Eternal life was a code word for the time when God would make all things right, when evil and violence would be banished, when justice would prevail.  That’s what the man yearned for and wanted to be a part of.  Jesus, being such a good rabbi, would surely know something about this.

What did  Jesus do?  He first reminded the man of the commandments, and the man protested that he had been there, done that.  And Jesus loved the man (an unusual statement in Mark’s gospel), which leaves us, the readers, with no doubt that Jesus must have wanted the best for him.  Then Jesus suggested something drastic, something that went to the heart of having a relationship with God (and others).  Jesus told the man to sell everything he had, give it to the poor and follow him.

What?  You got to be kidding?

Here’s what I think: Jesus knew that what the man was longing for (whether the man knew it or not),  was not more commandments to keep, but a relationship with God.  So Jesus out of love invited this man into a trusting relationship with himself.  It couldn’t happen, though, without the man letting go of the stuff that was holding him back.  It’s hard to trust anyone, including the Messiah, if as your back-up you are still hanging onto whatever gives you the most security.  In the end, the man couldn’t do it.  He simply couldn’t follow any further.  Like the ruffed grouse. 

Like me.  I’ll be honest.  I (perhaps each one of us) has stuff that makes it hard to let go and trust Christ, to trust his love for me, trust his ultimate goodness in a tough time.  How many times do I come just so far and can’t go further?  Within  reach of a feast, but turn away?

“Well, then, if this wealthy man can’t do it, then who can be a part of this eternal life,” asked Peter?

Good question.  Who can?

Not me.  I am a ruffed grouse when it comes to following Jesus.  I stand camouflaged on the sidelines.  I can think of plenty of things of which I can’t let go:  my plans, my expectations, my grudges and, yes, my material wants (not needs). 

Fortunately, the story isn’t over.  At the very moment the man was sadly walking away, too afraid to let go, too anxious to let himself trust and follow, Jesus was meanwhile turning to walk the other direction to Jerusalem.  To the cross.  Loving that man so much.  Loving you so much.  Loving me so much.  Loving the world so much that he actually let go of his life in order to set us free to participate in God’s new resurrected eternal-abundant-forgiven-sharing-with-the-poor life.  yes, the life that we will proclaim at a baptism this Sunday.

How is this possible?  Not by anything we humans have done, that’s for sure.  After all, when asked Jesus himself said to Peter, “With humans it’s impossible.”

So, again, how does this yours-truly-ruffed-grouse follower make it out of the camouflaged sidelines?

“With God all things are possible,” concluded Jesus who then headed on down the road with the cross and his own trust of an empty tomb ahead of him. 

Did you hear that?  With God all things are possible, Jesus said.  Even learning to let go, trusting Jesus in a deeper way, and walking down the road with him.


  1. Anonymous says:

    And other gospels like if your eye causes you to sin…or he who puts his hand to the plow…seem to speak to a power we don’t like to accord to works or human will. But this focus says any sin that sways you from discipleship pluck it out. I think the fundamentalists would describe the distinction as having a Savior v. Who is the Lord of your life. But if the key is trust and letting go in order to hear God more fully, well… that’s something different and completely uncharted and scary and no work helps in that. Reminds me of the hymn The Commission. Isn’t it funny when we are in the presence of God we are forever reminded of our unworthiness and the reach of his love at once. Which breeds humility and thankfulness. Thanks be to God for his great gift.

  2. The kind of trust made possible by God grows humility and thankfulness in us. That’s an excellent point. And I expect to hear the story someday of how the man in Mark’s gospel, in all humility and thankfulness, eventually did become one of those first post-Pentecost Christians who shared their goods in common.