“Which of you, wishing to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost to see if he has the resources to complete it? Otherwise, if he lays the foundation and is unable to finish the work, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This man could not finish what he started.’”
This sober advice comes from the Gospel of Luke. I know, I know, the prudent must count the cost before starting a project. I’ve heard the sermons under the stern eyeball and the wagging finger. But I think they missed the point. They didn’t see what I saw.
Riding my bike in downtown Oakville yesterday took me past my old work location. Kitty corner to there, are two renovation projects I watched unfold in the course of the same summer. The two ventures were markedly different, as you shall see.
The first was a modest saltbox home sitting derelict. It still had the old wavy glass in the windows – a true original. A plaque on the wall reminded all that this property was under the protection of the historical board. Any renovation plans had to honour the traditional style of the old downtown to be approved. Still, someone bought the place and orange plastic fences festooned with notices from the town surrounded the lot.
The ensuing renovation was somewhat akin to watching HGTV where everything takes place in a neat half-hour. The old house disappeared in a day, and a black pit about four times the size of the original footprint was dug behind it. Not to worry. As an army of muscled men came and went, the skeleton of a building rose like a living thing from the clay. The house got a roof between a daybreak and a sunset, windows appeared in the holes, and lush green grass was rolled out over the mud in the yard. Neat flagstone walkways magically materialized, and mature trees found their way into holes in the ground. A quaint carriage house that served as a garage was larger than the original home. Finally a very white picket fence slapped you in the face. The entire transformation took place in three weeks. It looked like a repeat of the creation story where God spoke a word and substance appeared from the void.
That was the easy house. The other home sat on the opposite corner. It was comparable to the first, a saltbox with smoky windows, and peeling paint that needed some care. This renovation unfolded quite differently from the first. It was a do-it-yourself venture taken on by the owners, who spent the entire summer scraping, pounding, painting and replacing. It was like watching paint dry. No matter the manpower, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. By the end of the summer, tools were still strewn in the yard at various points of attack yet the renovation seemed to have gone nowhere. They were running out of weather. They also seemed to have miscalculated costs, because the yard surrounding the house was sold off and converted into a parking lot to fund the ongoing restoration. Eventually all was sold and eventually converted into a business. The entire venture was painful to watch.
Jesus’ parable seems to praise the first example and frown at the second, yet it is clear to me that the costs were borne unevenly by the two parties. The first man paid only with his pocketbook. I am far more interested in the second man. His price was personal. I leave you to decide who paid more. The second man seems more like somebody I can relate to. Was he foolish to proceed? The two parties did not inherit the same circumstances and that changed everything. Preacher, be careful who you wag the finger at.
And so in life I have witnessed two different kinds of faith. Some enjoy an easy and confortable faith. They garner little trouble on the way, and they always look good. The second kind of faith comes at a higher cost. Those unlucky candidates seem to suffer from a series of trials and yet, like Job, refuse to give in. For me, their faith has something that defies first glance.
The Bible tells us that a portion of faith is given to every man. What is clear is that faith is an uneven gift. Like Bonhoeffer said, grace is free, but is sometimes not cheap. Life can exact a stiff price on your faith project. It’s the other type of Christian I wonder about. We will know whether their house is built on sand once the first storm blows up.
The question in the end is not which house went up fastest or easiest, but which one still stands.