BUCKING THE SYSTEM, FINDING LIFE
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
Richard Rohr says that when the phrase “the world” is used in the New Testament, it usually refers not to the planet or the universe, but to the dominant political and economic system. We see this usage in the words from Jesus quoted above. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36) In other words, what will it profit you to gain all sorts of wealth and power, if you have no friends, never sit by an ocean or a mountain stream, are not generous with your time or money, never seek God, and have lost contact with your soul?
In contrast to “the world”, Jesus talks about the kingdom or the reign of God.
In the reign of God:
- getting up early in the morning to pray, perhaps even while it is still dark outside, is highly valued. If you can manage to do be quiet and seek God on a daily basis, well... Moses and Elijah and the angels are probably starting to talk about you!
- being an instrument of God’s compassion and healing, especially when it comes to those who are down and out, is pretty much expected, as a fulfillment of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- considering the lilies and the ravens and taking care of Mother Earth is of more value than trying to extract every last resource out of the ground.
- face-to-face time with family and friends... eating around the table and reflecting together on what is really important in life... is more important than working 80 hours a week and never getting curious about the key principles that lie behind God’s gift of Sabbath.
- being a peace-maker leads to you being called a child of God, and might just help us avoid nuclear war.
- you forgiving someone is another way that God becomes incarnate.
- speaking the truth - IN LOVE - is the call that we aspire to fulfill.
- dying to ego... to the False Self... to the idea that you are the center of the universe... to the notion that you must be right, at all costs... is the identified path that we are being invited to take, as a way of rediscovering our essence, our true identity in Christ, and the new life that is founded in us being beloved children of God.
You will notice that joining in the reign of God leads us - almost inevitably - to bucking “the system.” What? I don’t necessarily need to work more hours or have a nicer car or a second home? What? Making a decision that looks risky, or even silly or stupid, or following a dream that seems crazy to many people... responding to what you hear as Gods’ voice urging you on, may be more celebrated in heaven as an act of faithfulness than you building a safe nest egg and not ruffling anyone’s feathers? What? Pulling your children out of school on Opening Day, or sharing a wheelbarrow with your neighbor rather than buying one for yourself - these might be good things? What? After reading the Old and New Testaments carefully, we might actually hear God saying, “Welcome more immigrants into your country, not less!”
Yes, the reign of God often looks very different from the ways of “the world.”
As you go through the rest of your week, ask yourself these questions:
What kind of life are you trying to “save”?
For what or for whom are you willing to die?
How does “the world” have a hold of you in a way that is keeping your from embracing the reign of God?
In what area of your life is God asking you to let go, die, or surrender, so that you may more fully live?
If you weren’t scared, and you fully believed that God was with you and for you, what would you do today?
Lord, help us to embrace You, and all that you are offering us. Help us to be instruments of your love, joy, peace, light, and healing. Help us to die to the ways of the world, and draw us ever closer to You, to our fellow human beings, and to all creation. Amen.