By Paul Koch –
I had forgotten how much I love the radical freedom and danger of flying down the road on a stripped-down motorcycle. A bike only equipped with the necessary safety features—good brakes, new tires, and a headlight and tail light, lacking a horn, speedometer, front fender, chain guard, mufflers, turn indicators, and rear shocks is a simple and powerful machine. It doesn’t allow the distractions of the radio, text messages, or much else to get in the way. It’s just you and the wind in your face with all the sights, sounds, and smells of the journey you’re on.
It is somewhat embarrassing to say that for the past few years, my bike has been a bit neglected. There were several maintenance items that needed to be taken care of, but it always got pushed to the back burner. There were too many other things to worry about, too many other things to focus my time on. In the garage, she got slowly buried under other projects and to-do lists, but recently, she has been brought back to life. With her low rumble and quick throttle, I’ve remembered what a blessing it was to ride.
You see, ridding like this, though it isn’t the safest way to go, brings with it a crazy amount of focus and clarity. Skipping the most basic technology of a speedometer means that you must be attuned to the flow of traffic in a different way. Everything becomes about the moment you’re in and those around you, especially since those around you are in giant metal cages that could kill you in an instant.
In Luke 9, our Lord is discussing the cost of discipleship with his followers. After talking about the homes of foxes and birds and the dead burying their own, he says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
It’s tempting to look back. It’s tempting to always be charting our progress and seeing how we compare to others. In fact, I find that we can get so consumed in the theory and planning of how to properly plow a field that we can stall out the actual plowing. Proper technique and an appropriate application of the tools is certainly necessary, but at some point, we need to put our hands to the plow and push forward.
So, I am thankful for the voices around me that seek to correct and guide how I set my hands the task before me. As a preacher of the Word, there are many who add their influence to my craft. There are the fathers of our faith, the great confessors of the Church whose writing continue to shape and focus my vocation by being a brilliant light in the darkness. There are those who react negatively to my writings on this blog and elsewhere, who accuse me of some variation of ancient falsehoods or moral flaws and so cause me to pause and rethink my assertions and convictions. And then there are my friends, those whose voices I trust above all others, whose corrections are more precise and encouragement more treasured.
Through it all, I am set again to a task. There are people to whom I have been sent, people who are hurting, lost, confused, afraid, angry, and in need of the Word and gifts of God. All the theorizing, contemplation, and debate must at some point break forth into application. The hands are to be set to the plow, and we press forward with focus and clarity. We speak the Law and Gospel into the lives of God’s children and so kill and bring forth life.
When I’m moving down the highway, throwing the jokey shift into the next gear, I’m vividly grounded in a world outside of my own head, a world of real consequences and immediate implications for errors. Theories and opinions dissolve into the practical application of internal combustion, throttle response, and braking ability. It feels good to be on the bike again. It acts as sort of a moving metaphor for the task set before me. My plowing may not be as perfect as someone else’s, it may not come with the right accolades or fit in the appropriate category, but it still needs to be done, and for now, I have been called to do it.
In the application of the Word, in the messy lives of those I serve, in the immediacy of it all, there is clarity and focus as our God yet again does just what he said he would do.