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Death Grip

If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. ~ Mark 8:35

Anyone who fishes knows that better equipment and increased skill will help to change the odds of a catch, but there are never any guarantees. So imagine relying exclusively on a diet of fish and having to provide that for your family. Oh, and you have no tackle, your only tools are your bare hands, and you must do it by hovering over the water and dropping down, going under the water to grab the fish, which weighs a quarter of your weight. Welcome to the life of the Osprey.

Ospreys are designed to be expert anglers. They can spot their prey, which can be six or more feet underwater, while flapping their wings in order to hover sometimes more than a hundred feet over the water. One toe on each foot is able to turn to create a grappling hook effect with their talons and their scaly feet make grasping their slippery meal possible. Their dives take them completely underwater and then they must lift their wet selves and their heavy prey out of the water and carry it to their hungry family back at the nest. These three-pound birds typically catch three-quarter-pound fish, but they are capable of taking prey much larger. They can actually catch and carry a fish that weighs twice as much as they do! Since they are successful only a small percentage of the time, they are motivated to go for as large a fish as possible. This comes with a risk. If the Osprey gets a firm hold on a fish that is large enough to battle back, that grip could literally become a death grip with the Osprey drowning before letting go.

The symbol of the cross conjures up gold necklaces and candy at Easter, but when when Jesus told us that we needed to take up our cross in order to follow him, he was talking about a death grip. Perhaps an updated image of getting strapped down to a gurney and having a needle inserted to deliver a lethal injection would better get our attention. Not only was Jesus telling us to submit to death’s grip, being willing to lose our life, but he also expected us to hold on to that purpose with a grip that won’t let go. Centuries of navigating broader, easier paths have given us a false perception that little is required to follow the way of Jesus. But the path is indeed narrow and hard. While I don’t believe that God desires that we have death wishes, I do believe that we are called to release our fear of death enough to permit holding on to our calling for dear life. Only when we fully understand that love of God means loving our neighbor and that there is no greater love than laying down our life for another, will we truly risk great things like giving our all to give life to others.

Prayer: Gracious God, giver of life and conqueror of death, remind us that you provide the strength to hold on and rise up. Amen.


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