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Thursday, June 11, 2015
Today’s Reading | Luke 9:18–27
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” (NRSV)
“Nearly all the wisdom we possess . . . consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”
—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book One, Chapter 1)
Today’s reading from Luke is famous for its call to all who would follow Jesus—that they should “deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow [him].” This seemingly simple call is, however, part of a confusing set of statements Jesus makes about us and our relationships with ourselves and with him. Jesus states that following him is not about saving one’s life but about losing it—that losing one’s life will actually lead to saving it. Jesus closes his chain of paradoxes, asking, “What does it profit [people] if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”
Puzzling? Certainly. But I do think there is something important to be found in the dialectical relationship between losing oneself and finding oneself.
In a recent article in the New York Times, professors of psychology Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner consider the question of why human beings experience awe (http://nyti.ms/1LRYJRx). They note that humans are the only creatures who manifest the physical and psychological reactions that constitute awe. More important for us is their finding that those “who reported experiencing more awe in their lives, who felt more regular wonder and beauty in the world around them, were more generous to the stranger.”
Piff and Keltner argue we’re inspired to awe primarily by things outside ourselves and that awe drives us to act on behalf of others more than ourselves. Yet, they lament, we have “become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic, and less connected to others.” This leads to less awe, which leads to more individualism and less positive action toward others and the world around us.
What if looking beyond ourselves isn’t just a test to see whether we are worthy of relationship with Jesus and with the God who sent him? What if looking beyond ourselves—experiencing the awe that awaits us in the world and people around us—what if that is the only way we can actually be disciples at all? Ignoring ourselves, lost in awe, we might just find the lives to which we are called.
God of wonder and might, help me to look beyond myself—to the beauty of the earth and sea and sky around me, to the simple goodness of your creatures, to the mysteries of the universe beyond, and especially to the grace you have imparted to your people. By the signs of your providence revealed there, shape my heart and my mind so that they might be more faithful to you and more courageous to do your will. Amen.
Written by Hardy H. Kim,
Associate Pastor for Evangelism
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