Lent: Lost and Found
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their lifewill lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
Just prior to this verse, Jesus has been talking with his disciples about how he’s going to be arrested and be executed. And they can’t deal with it because he’s supposed to be the Messiah, (the Christ). He’s the one they’re looking to, to fall in behind, to follow him to victory, success, triumph, blessing, favour.
And yet he says no: my path to victory is downward, not upward.
He’s got it all backwards, from their perspective at least. But the challenge of Jesus is that we’re the ones who often have it all around the wrong way.
And so he says this… what point is there racing around trying to get everything you want, if your soul ends up suffering; if you lose everything in the end?
This is the message of Lent.
To embrace the upside-down reality that if we spend our life simply trying to meet and fulfil our own desires, if we chase satisfaction at the expense of everything else, if we try and find that elusive thing that will finally make everything better, make everything okay, hoping to arrive at that place where we’ll no longer want or desire anything more… we end up losing ourselves in the process.
And then instead, the places where we find true life, real joy, and ultimately our real selves, is often in the places where we pour our life into the Jesus way of being in the world, in self-sacrifice, in self-giving love.
Several chapters later in Matthew’s gospel there’s a story of a rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to enter fully into life. Jesus tells him he must obey the commandments, including the command to love your neighbour as you love yourself. But the young man is adamant that he has followed these since he was a boy, but it still feels like something is missing. “What do I still lack?” he asks of Jesus.
And so Jesus replies: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But this makes the young man sad because he had great wealth.
This is one of only two times that Jesus is recorded as using the word “perfect”. The other time is also in the gospel of Matthew, and is found in the sermon on the mount. In the sermon on the mount, to be perfect like God is to love your enemies, and to love those who haven’t loved you in return. So perfection, for Jesus, is about love.
Now here in this story, this young man claims to love his neighbour as himself, he’s kept this commandment since he was a little boy. But challenged to give up everything to the poor as a way to express that love, this was a step too far. He thought he loved his neighbours, but when it comes down to it, he loved his money more.
He’s unhappy because even though he has all of this wealth, it’s not making him satisfied; he’s still searching for real life. But when faced with the fact that giving up all of this wealth is the very way in which he’ll find life, he is unable to do it. He goes away sad, not because he thinks Jesus is wrong – if that was the case he’d go away laughing – but because he thinks Jesus is right, and he’s stuck in the same bind that so many of us can be caught up in too.
“I know that these things are not really the pathway to life, but I want them anyway and do not want to give them up.”
At its most extreme, this is the phrase of addictive behaviour. When we know that something is not good for us, but we want it anyway. But for many of us, it’s simply the pursuit of certain things that we suspect (or know!) won’t really bring us the joy and satisfaction that we desire, but we’re still unwilling to give them up.
We cling to things that ultimately do not give us the meaning and fulfilment that we crave. We think that ‘having’ or ‘getting’ that thing is what will make us feel happy and satisfied. But the challenge of Jesus, and our challenge as we enter Lent, is that ‘getting the thing’ is not the ultimate way to this kind of life. It’s the giving up of things for others. For God, and for our neighbour.
It’s the path of self-sacrifice.
We find real meaning when we engage in acts of generosity toward another. When we love someone else in a way that doesn’t put ourselves first. When we choose to serve in a moment when we’d rather not. That’s where the life is.
So here are three questions to consider during this season of Lent:
1. What are those things that I know don’t give me life, but I cling to anyway?
2. What attitudes do I have that get in the way of serving others?
3. What are the three things in my life that I find the most meaningful?