By Father Casey
Several years ago, I came across a video of a sermon by a megachurch pastor here in Texas. In it, she said, “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy…So, I want you to know, just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.”
I’m not sure Jesus would agree.
This weekend we’ll hear the story of a conversation between Jesus and Peter. Peter has just confessed Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus, in response, says that in order to be the Messiah, he will have to suffer and die at the hands of the rulers and religious leaders.
This Peter can’t stomach. It’s ridiculous. Suffer and die? We’re here to win, Jesus. Stop talking like a loser.
To which Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Friends, as popular as personal happiness is to American sensibilities, it is not something Jesus desires for us. Abundant life, yes. Indominable joy, yes. Transcendent peace, yes. But the whole idea of the supreme value of personal happiness simply does not align with the way of Jesus. Neither does the idea that the purpose of life is to win, to be the best, to be “great.”
“Those who want to save their life must lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
I’ll admit, I get why so many prefer to follow a god whose highest desire is our happiness, and who will ensure we always win. Because to take Jesus at his word and actually begin to follow him requires us to let go of personal happiness as our ultimate goal. Just like it requires us to abandon the idea that dominance of others is what makes one great.
We don’t get to have it both ways: we don’t get to follow Jesus and also make our life all about ourselves. Neither do we get to follow Jesus, and then make the way of Jesus to be whatever we say it is. There’s a word for that: idolatry. Jesus makes it plain: the way to actually live in the Kingdom of God is through supreme humility, compassion, and sacrifice. The way to follow him is to take up the cross.
So we have to ask ourselves… do we really want to be his followers? Are we willing to stop chasing happiness and trade it for something deeper? Are we ready to stop believing what some say constitutes “greatness,” and instead follow the example of Jesus? Are we ready to lose our lives in order to save them?