Monday, February 26, 2007

What good is it?

Today's New Testament reading includes this famous quotation:
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
Mark 8.36
I'm going to guess that many people have heard the quote without knowing what it was talking about. In fact, I didn't remember until I read it this morning that Jesus is here talking about sacrifices attending the Christian life.

This immediately follows the "Who do you say that I am?" passage (8.29) and his statements that he himself would suffer and die and rise again. Peter begins to rebuke him, and Jesus corrects him.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Mark 8.34-35
Many commentators have noted that to take up one's cross means "prepare to die," and that in turn brings to mind the adage, "If you're willing to die for your wife, why aren't you willing to do the dishes for her?" If I'm willing to die for Jesus, then, am I willing to tell my colleagues about him? Do my colleagues know, for example, that I write these essays?

Well, I don't know. But as soon as I get to the office this morning, I'll to update my "work" home page to include a link to this blog.

OK, so it's immediately after this that Jesus asks the rhetorical question above, "What good is it?" If I want to save my life, if I want to gain the world, Jesus seems to be saying, I may forfeit my soul, and what good would that do me? What good indeed?

And why is it that way? It doesn't seem to be a case of "If you do this, then I'll punish you by doing that" but it sounds more like a logical consequence. It's like if what we'll do all day and night in heaven is worship God, then if I don't like worshiping God, I wouldn't like heaven. H'm... Jesus continues:
Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
Mark 8.37-38
So maybe if I'd be ashamed of Jesus and his words, then a place where Jesus and his words are the center of attention -- that place wouldn't be for me?

Then help me, Lord, to treasure your words and to long for your approval and blessing, more than for anything and everything in this whole world.

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