From the Center for Social Ministry’s blog, Building Bridges, Building Hope –
“Cushy” Doesn’t Always Equal Christian
One of the Gospel readings this Lent was Jesus sharing with the Disciples that he was going to be rejected, killed, and then rise again. When Peter firmly objects, Jesus admonishes him with one of the more prominent lines in the Gospels, “Get behind me, Satan!” This leads to two of the most difficult lines in all of scripture for the Disciples and for many of us today, “If any of you want to become my followers, you must deny yourself, take up your 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 the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”
First, let me point out that Jesus’ teachings are constantly holding up the paradoxes that define our faith and our call to follow him. “If you want to be first, you have to be last” (Mt. 20:16). “If you want to be great, you have to become a servant of all” (Mt. 23:11). “If you want to have wealth, then you have to give everything away” (Mt. 19:21). And, today’s reading, “If you want to save your life, you have to lose it” (Mark 8:35).
I think these and other paradoxes accentuate three ideas for us today. First, following Jesus is counter-cultural at nearly every level. Jesus makes it very clear throughout his life that God’s love and what it means to be his followers will often clash with cultural norms. God’s love is always above and beyond even our best attempts at being a loving, forgiving and compassionate human community.
Second, we can never truly know the mind of God, so trust in God is absolutely essential if we intend to live a relatively “anxiety-free” life. I often say to myself, “Right hunch; wrong interpretation.” What this means is: I have forgotten that, ultimately, God gets to be the interpreter of my life. When I try to do it myself, I’m almost always just off the mark.
Lastly, we’re in trouble, folks; especially those of us that live in the U.S. and claim to be Christians! There is nothing more unnerving for me then the “prosperity Gospel” theology that is embraced by many Christians in the U.S. Those who are proponents of the prosperity Gospel interpretation of scripture believe the more wealth you have, the more you’ve been blessed by God; that monetary wealth is a blessing God has chosen to bestow on some, and if you just have faith God might bestow this blessing on you, too. In my mind, the problem with this theology is two-fold. The first is this: the number of scripture passages that actually talk about the dangers of wealth and greed, and how wealth, more often than not, gets in the way of our relationship with others and with God. (See Mt. 6:19-21; Mt. 6:24, Mt. 19:16-30; Mt. 25:31-46; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 12:13-15; Luke 12:16-21; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 18:18-23; Luke 19:45-48 – just to name a few.) It’s one thing to have wealth and be incredibly thankful to God for it, and generous with it. It’s a whole other thing to think you are somehow blessed (more than others) because of it.
The second issue I have with the prosperity Gospel is the paradox Jesus shares in this particular reading and the other paradoxes I mention above: being followers of Jesus does not mean living comfortably; it demands becoming servants, living simply and taking up our cross. If today’s Gospel reading is our guide, living a “cushy” lifestyle does not equal a Christian lifestyle. Or, in the words of Arthur Simon, author of How Much Is Enough: Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture, “The contrast between American abundance and the poverty I saw (in other countries) gave me anguish, because I sensed a connection between empty stomachs on one continent and empty lives on another.”
My hope for all of us Christians in the U.S. is that simplicity and generosity will eventually outweigh our desire for wealth, power and control. Only then, will we understand that losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel – stripping away all that separates us from God and one another – will actually be what saves us and many others in the process.
Continued Lenten blessings,
Susie Tierney is the Director of Organizing for JustFaith Ministries and the Executive Director of the Center for Social Ministry in Des Moines, Iowa.