Homily for 10/3/04 - gain the world & lose the soul?
- Mark 8:34-9:1
Many years ago I had a job administering welfare benefits. I had a cabinet full of files and forms. My job was to make sure that everyone on my caseload was up to date in all their certifications, to verify all the information that they sent me and to make sure they qualified for all the benefits that they were receiving. Invariably I would start the day with one file open on my desk, and then the phone would ring and out would come a second file - right on top of the first. And then someone would come by and there was a third file. As the day progressed more phone calls and visits, more appointments, more open files until by the end of the day, my desk was full of files, each one not quite finished, needing a little more work. At that point, the day was over and there was no more time to do the work that needed to be done, so everything got put away and tomorrow the whole thing started all over again.
This happened because I didn't distinguish between what was important and what wasn't. I wanted to get everything done at once and so didn't get anything done. I looked busy, I looked efficient, I looked like I was accomplishing something, but in actuality, I had done nothing.
In our spiritual lives we face the same kind of choice. In the course of our lives we each have a limited amount of time and energy to accomplish the task set before us. What is this task of our life? The answer to that question determines how we will chose to devote our time, attention and resources. In the Gospel today there are two opposing goals set before us - we can save our soul or we can gain the world. In addition there is a very obvious value placed on these goals for the Gospel says, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul?" The Gospel is quite clear as to the relative importance of these two goals - certainly one's soul is of much more value than anything in the world and so the resolution to this question - "What is the task of my life" should be obvious; the salvation of the soul. But too often it is not.
There are those who deny the uniqueness of the soul - they deny that we are any different from the animals. If there *is* a God, they might say, then He is far away and cares nothing for us - we are not special or unique or precious in His eyes. There is nothing to save, there is nothing beyond this life, beyond the world and so for that person this is not even a question. They will gain the world. If indeed their belief is true - that there is nothing beyond this life, that the soul is nothing special - then their choice to acquire the world is a good choice. Why waste time and energy on trying to save something that is of no real value. But they are not right, their belief is in error, for God did create us unique and different from the animals and we are precious to Him. The Psalmist asks this same question when He says, "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him?" He then continues to answer the question, "You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet." We are not "the same as the animals" - we are made "a little lower than the angels" and we are above all of creation, ruling over it.
Then there are those who would admit that God does indeed exist and does indeed care, that to Him we are valuable. However, for a variety of reasons they do not see the necessity of working to save the soul. Some think that the soul is in no danger - that it just continues on after death to the next life with no change. Others think that God, being full of love will not allow anyone to be lost and so in the end, no matter what we do in this life, we will be saved. And others will say that God does all that is necessary, we need do nothing other than acknowledge Him and accept the labor He has already completed - and so our actions are not really important, we can go on indulging our worldly passions and desires for God has taken care of that which is necessary for us. But none of these things are quite accurate.
It is true that the soul is immortal and will continue on into the next life - but the question is what will the next life be like? Will we continue on into a life of torment and enslavement to the passions that can no longer be satisfied - much like having an itch that cannot be scratched. Will that life be filled with darkness and regret - wailing and the gnashing of teeth? Or will that life be filled with light and joy, attuned to the mercies and grace of God which satisfies all its desires. The person who does not consider this question is a person with no real knowledge of or belief in the next life.
It is also true that God is full of love - in fact God is love and He desires that all be saved and that no one should be lost. And yet God's love is so great that He allows us the choice of free will. He allows us to choose which way we will go. If we choose to live our lives in submission to His will, according to the direction that He gives us, then we will indeed find that He provides all that we need and that in the end, we have entered into paradise. If however, we ignore the instruction of God and go our own way, we will not find the gates of heaven but will instead fall through the gates of hell. Such is the greatness of God's love that He does not impose Himself on us by force, but respects the choice that we make.
In the light of all this it is also true that there is nothing we can do of ourselves that will bring us into heaven. Only God can bridge the gap for us between our fallen and sinful nature and His divine presence. Only God can provide for us the grace which transforms us into His image and likeness. Without Him, we can do nothing. However, while He does shower His grace upon us without limit, we must conform ourselves to that grace. Just as He does not force Himself upon us but out of love respects our own choice, so also He does not overwhelm us and take us over. It does make a difference what we do and how we act. It is necessary for us to cooperate with His grace, to acquire the grace that He so freely provides and to use it according to the directions that He gives us in order for it to have its effect on us. Yes, God has done all that is necessary for us - now we must conform ourselves to Him.
In each of these cases we face a choice - the choice between cooperating with God's mercy and following the path He sets before us, or the choice of going our own way and living in the world. It does make a difference what we choose, it does matter how we live in this life, there is a greater goal towards which we can strive. And today, each day we are faced with that very choice - what do I want to accomplish in this life? Do I wish to gain the world, to acquire the passing and temporary comforts and pleasures of this world? Do I wish to acquire wealth, success, the esteem of men, and power in this world - is that what I want? Or, do I wish to acquire the grace of God, the eternal joys of paradise and a place in the Kingdom of God. Am I striving for spiritual wealth at the expense of worldly wealth, for the esteem of God rather than the esteem of men, for a place in the Kingdom of God rather than the power of the world? What is the choice?
Only when this question is answered, only when we know for what we strive, can we then truly "prioritize" our lives according to that purpose. If we choose the world, then we can only acquire worldly things and the spiritual life comes only as an afterthought and is neglected - finding itself on the bottom of the pile. If, however, we choose Christ then the worldly rewards are of no importance. What indeed, does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? Our choices, our actions, our priorities in this life do have an effect on eternity. This life that we lead in the world seems so important to us because it is all we have so far experienced - and yet in eternity it is nothing, it is insignificant. Our choice is whether we will seek to acquire the world and limit ourselves to the short sighted pleasures, rewards and honors which are all that this world has to offer or whether we will look beyond this world, this life, into eternity and prepare for that which is greater - for the kingdom of God and eternity in His presence.
Where do your priorities lie, my brothers and sisters? Do you focus your time, your energy, your resources on acquiring the things of this world. Or do you rather look to the Kingdom of God and willingly spend all that you have in this world, your wealth, your pleasure, your comfort, your honor, that you might receive all those things from the hand of our Lord Jesus Christ when we stand before Him in glory. Each day, each moment we must choose, will we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness - or will we instead fall short, seeking only the dreams of the world. "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?"
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