“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas)
The 1960s were a time of immense and radical change for humanity. There was cultural, racial, social, artistic, political and technological change on a scale rarely seen before or since.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the United States. A country of immense growth and power who, in some respects, were still stuck firmly in the past. They were coming through the other side of Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witchhunts. Equality between the sexes was a rarely mentioned dream. The colour bar still remained in many parts of the country, with icons such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King starting to severely challenge them as the civil rights movement grew at a pace.
There was also the “Space Race”. A battle for supremacy in the stars (well, the outer regions of the Earth’s atmosphere) between the superpowers of the USA and USSR.
This is what JFK is primarily talking about here, but he alludes to the massive change to come when he talks about “the other things”. He talks of choosing to do them. That they will bring the very best out of humanity.
Because these things are hard to do. They’re hard to achieve. They’re hard to persuade others to accept. They come with massive risks to all of us.
But they’re the right things to do and the rewards are great.
History has borne that out. There is, 52 years after that speech, a black man in the White House. Male and female equality is so much closer (although so much still needs to be done). Man walked on the moon and it is still viewed as one of our greatest achievements.
The battles go on. They are hard, but they seem so much more winnable than that day in 1962.
The harder the battle, the harder the change, the harder the acceptance, the greater the reward. This is Jesus’ message to us as well.
The Pharisees say that what he says about divorce is so hard that it would be better not to marry.
The rich man finds Jesus’ demands on him so unpalatable that he walks away. Jesus says that his example shows how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, such is their devotion to their wealth.
When James and John’s mother asks Jesus if one of her sons can sit at his right hand in heaven, his question to them is,
“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
They enthusiastically answer that they can, even though they must surely by now know what this means. Jesus has just told them, for a third time, the death which awaits him in Jerusalem. They know that this means that it, at some stage, awaits them too if they continue to follow him. But they know that the reward is great. They know that God is fair and will give them what they have earned, as the owner of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable did.
Coldplay once sung “nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be so hard”. Well, they did. Jesus makes it clear that it will be almost impossible. Almost. But with him, it is achievable.
We choose to follow him, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
And so, so worth it!