In today’s gospel we find a paradoxical statement in which Jesus gives his followers the pattern of living that he, himself, has espoused and in the following of which they will find the fullness of life. (MT 16: 24-28) He says: Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. To clarify, he asks the following question: What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his [her] soul?
St. Paul speaks in the Letter to the Philippians of the great willingness of Jesus to surrender everything to teach us what is important, that is, the primacy of love. He writes: Have among yourselves the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself…(Phil. 2:6-11) Later in that letter, Paul affirms that teaching/example of Christ in his own life by saying: I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ, my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things…(3:17)
So how might we interpret these words in today’s world? Especially in the cultures of the developed nations of our time it is difficult to let go of striving and of possessions to find interior peace – even when we assent intellectually to the value of such surrender. But more and more frequently I hear people speak of their need to “de-clutter” not only their closets (as I am doing with some success!) but also their lives which are so busy that there is little or no room for silence and communion with the Divine.
The point of Jesus and Paul was made simply and clearly for us at the end of the 20th century by Jesuit spiritual teacher, Anthony De Mello, who wrote: “How would spirituality help a man of the world like me?” asked the businessman. “It will help you to have more,” said the master. “How?” “By teaching you to desire less.” A paradox surely but one that can be proven truthful by those who have removed themselves from the “race to the top” in search of deeper meaning. We have many examples of how this works – from billionaires like Warren Buffett, whose countenance shines with the happiness of one who understands the value of “sharing the wealth” to people like the man in the news yesterday who walks the streets with his hair-cutting tools serving the homeless by shaving and cutting their hair for free.
It is the freedom that comes from this “losing” that is the “gain.” Not tied to riches or status or anything at all, we are free to serve whenever and wherever we are called. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to know this truth – but we can all start somewhere to “let go and let God” work in us. Every day is a new beginning and, for me, this one has just begun.