These Words Challenge Our Worldview… What Do They Mean, Exactly?

The words used in this passage are very strong. They challenge our understanding, our world view. They seem so contradictory to us. What does Jesus mean by these words?

All human beings desire happiness, a good life. Is Jesus condemning this natural desire? Or is he trying to give us a different way of looking at what a “good life”, a happy life is? Most people in his day thought that the good life was the result of having power, or fame, or wealth. Is that not still true for most people today? But this is a materialistic understanding, a particularly earthly, or worldly view of the good life. Was he not challenging our often selfish and inordinate love of the “things” of this life and trying to give us a new direction; one that not only can, but will provide us with the “good life” that our souls really desire? After all, power, fame, and wealth are finite, temporary, and can never win eternal life for us. The world’s goods, have no power to satisfy our eternal soul’s deepest desire. Jesus is getting us to think more deeply about the means we employ to reach that end of eternal life.

What, then, does Jesus mean when he says, “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life? He is challenging us to turn away from the false, misleading and tempting idea that the things of the world are our salvation. Money is neither good, nor evil; greed is. Fame is neither good, nor evil; excessive pride is. The evil one can use the good things of the world to lead us away from God. This is what Jesus wants us to hate. He wants us to put our faith in him alone. He wants us to develop a spiritually healthy aversion toward the temptations of worldly things.

Loving this life inordinately, making of it an idol, will lose us the eternal life that we were made to enjoy in the presence of God. Jesus, once again, is our model here. He did exactly what he is asking us to do here. He emptied himself of divinity and become one with us. He took on our flesh and sacrificed everything that the world counts as valuable, suffered willingly, and died on the cross, in order to conquer the vanities of sin and the burden of death. He is asking us to do the same. Jesus did nothing for his own self-aggrandisement. He did nothing out of worldly self-interest. His whole life on earth was an act of total, unconditional, self-sacrifice for the good of others. In order to gain eternal life we are to, like Jesus, love the things of God above all else.

Lord, help us to see and to practice a growing love for you and for our neighbors. Help us to love more the things that give eternal life to the soul and to hate those worldly things that lead us away from you. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.