Sermon on Mark 8:34-9:1
“What will the profit be, if someone gains the whole world and loses his life? Or what would someone give in exchange for his life?” (Mark 8:36-37).
Jesus is asking us a rhetorical question. It’s meant to be obvious to us that our life is worth more than the whole world. And that there is nothing not worth giving for our life.
Life is “God’s greatest gift,” just as Joseph says to Clarence in that movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. If you’re like me, you watch that movie every Christmas season. Now, it does make some glaring theological errors. For example, we do not become angels like Clarence after we die, but that is a whole other conversation and some things the movie does get right, including this: that life is God’s greatest gift to us.
And this life we have been given, just as the title says, is wonderful. It is filled with wonder. So, let us wonder at it for a while.
And let’s examine what does and does not make life wonderful. In the movie, George Bailey learns eventually that it is not money that makes life wonderful even if, as he says to Clarence, it “comes in pretty handy down here, bub.” He learns that the far more wonderful thing about life is love. The love of friendship, of marriage and family. It seems me that he even learns to love his enemy Mr. Potter by the end.
When George turns to God in his darkest hour, God intervenes to save his life. There are, as I said, some good and true things about this story, despite its few glaring errors. This is what God really does: he saves our lives. We know he is our Savior, but sometimes we forget what he’s saving us from. He’s saving us, ultimately, from death. He comes that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).
Let’s turn to the scripture, which, as it turns out, is an even better source of true teaching than a Frank Capra movie.
In another place Jesus teaches us, “he who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). This show us that Jesus is saving us not for the life in this world, but for a different and eternal life. There’s a distinction here between two kinds of life. For that reason, someone might misunderstand and object to Jesus’ earlier rhetorical question with the proclamation that there are some things worth dying for. And of course there are! No one is a clearer example of this than Jesus himself. But when we die for the things worth dying for, even though we die, we live. If we die for the things of this world, on the other hand, we’re dying for nothing and we’re risking a different kind of death
The life in this world is the life of enslavement to the things of this world. Yes, money, the love of which is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10), but also all the passions: not only greed, but also lust and hatred and envy and pride and vainglory, and gluttony and sloth and so on. This is part of what Jesus means by “the life in this world” that we are to hate. As I mentioned last week, St. Isaac the Syrian teaches us that “The ‘world’ is the general name for all the passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them ‘the world.’” So the life in the world is the impassioned life. And it is not life in this sense, not life in this world or according to the values of the world, that Jesus comes to save, but rather eternal and everlasting life, the life which is part of our true nature, which we were truly created for. Life itself which is union with life himself, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the life.
The way to this life is through the cross, which we continue to exalt today.
In today’s epistle, Paul writes, “I’ve been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
To live as Christ, first we die as Christ. We take up our cross and follow him. We die to our passions and to the things of this world & then in him we know true and everlasting freedom, love, and life.