Last week we started Lent by taking notice of the world around us in a new way, especially noticing our impact on creation. As we enter week 2 of our mental spring cleaning, I invite us to turn our attention inward, and specifically to look at our priorities.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the priorities behind the Declaration of Independence, and 200+ years later they’re still pretty popular… and for good reason! I really like life, liberty, and happiness, and I think they’re a good baseline for what a government should aim for in its people. And isn’t that the same as what we should aim for as followers of Christ?
If so, this week’s gospel passage is pretty hard to swallow. Mark 8:31-38 includes some pretty rough passages, including “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.” Strong stuff!
And it seems at first that all this talk of crosses and loss of life stands pretty directly opposed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”! But when I look at the story of Jesus, at the journey towards Jerusalem, towards the confrontation with corrupt government and a brutal war machine that waited for him there, I don’t think that Jesus is saying we shouldn’t value life; I think he just has a bigger perspective on what that means.
Sometimes valuing life means being willing to give up your own life. Sometimes things are so bad that people have to run terrible risks in the pursuit of justice, in the pursuit of the Gospel which is good news to the poor. I think that protesters and journalists and missionaries understand very well that it’s dangerous to do the right thing sometimes, and that if you’re going to dedicate yourself to the Way of truth and peace it might come with some serious consequences.
Thank Heavens most of us don’t face those consequences in our daily lives. But these words from Jesus keep things in perspective. Even as we pursue our own happiness, we are reminded that our top priority must be something bigger than that, it must be a commitment to the Christ that calls for justice and rightness and healing for all people and all creation.
May God’s priorities reorient us and reign in us all.
Peace and joy be with you,