“Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” These words of Jesus in today’s Gospel challenge us to question what we are doing with our lives. What are we striving to “lose” and what do we want to “find”? Are we living for ourselves, or for others, or for God? Most likely we must admit that we live for a complex combination of them all, with each one taking center stage at different times. The goal set before us in the Gospel, however, is to put right order in our priorities: God first, others second, and ourselves last. This putting ourselves “last,” or “losing our life,” is paradoxically the best thing we can possibly do for ourselves.
There is a right order when it comes to love. The greatest of all the commandments is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (cf. Mt 22:37). There is no question that God, who is Love and who created us out of love and for love, must be our first love. This is why Jesus says in the Gospel that if we love the members of our family – father, mother, son, daughter – more than we love him, then we are “not worthy” of him. On our own, we are not worthy of him anyway. We are not worthy to be his disciples, or to have him under our roof (cf. Mt 8:8). But in his love and mercy he has made us worthy by calling us “out of darkness into his wonderful light,” as the Gospel Acclamation exclaims. Our awareness of what the Lord has done for us leads to the praise and gratitude of today’s Psalm: “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”
We naturally prefer the idea that to “lose our life” for Jesus’ sake, to take up our cross and follow him, is a “one-and-done” decision. It is easier for us if we can simply make the decision and then get on with life. But this is not what Jesus asks of us. The nature of love and gratitude demands that it be more than a one-time decision. The Lord wants to be with us at every moment; do we want to be with him at every moment? Our commitment to him can be expressed in each task we undertake. Even small routine activities – like giving “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones,” or sweeping the kitchen floor, or calling a lonely neighbor – can be a decision to “lose our life.”
We can be in union with Jesus in every task if we offer it with a prayer as simple as, “For love of you, Jesus.” Of course, there are many events throughout the day that require our full attention; we cannot have Jesus in the forefront of our thoughts all the time. The beauty of the Morning Offering is that we give our whole selves and all that we do to the Lord – but we must renew our gift frequently or we may neglect it, or even take it back!
Jesus in this Gospel goes on to speak about rewards. He is not saying that when we are just or charitable we earn the reward of God’s favor. No, God is already eager to favor us. Nothing we do will make him love us more or be more inclined to give to us. The question is whether our hearts are open to receive his grace. The evidence of an open heart is our willingness to serve others.
This spiritual “reward process” is illustrated in the first reading. The “woman of influence” welcomes the prophet Elisha and shows him great hospitality; she asks nothing in return. Elisha learns that she has no son and intercedes for her. Knowing that God will answer his prayer, he tells the woman that she will have a baby son by next year. There is a link between the woman’s hospitality and her receiving a son, but it is not a direct cause. She did not earn a son or demand that God give her one. Rather, she was willing to “receive a prophet” with hospitality, and she was rewarded with “a prophet’s reward.” Her openness to the needs of others opened a space in her heart which God chose to fill with a baby son.
Our willingness to “lose our life” – meaning, to make a gift of ourselves to God and to others – results in our “finding” life in God, in ways we cannot predict. God is never outdone in generosity. This mysterious process of giving and receiving is also what St. Paul is speaking about when he says that “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” As we are reminded in the Theme for this week, “The Cross, the sign of love and total self-giving, is central to our daily call as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is our path to glory. Let us take up our cross and follow Jesus today!”
Why do I find it difficult to put myself last or “to lose my life”? What are some of the ways in my daily life that I can give of myself to others? How does hospitality and concern for the needs of others open my heart so God can fill it?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.