“Do not conform yourselves to this age.” “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself …” Surely these words aren’t meant for us.
Every time I go online I get a pop-up for some product or other that very much wants me to conform myself to this age. These messages are definitely not about denying oneself. Rather, one is to indulge oneself. Buy it, even if you can’t afford it. It’s what the entire credit card industry is built on and it’s a message we start teaching our children almost as soon as they’re able to say “plastic.” Check out the back-to-school ads and you’ll see what I mean.
And it doesn’t end there. As adults we become even more adept at rationalizing why we need what we [think we] need. So what if the cost of gasoline is up and they tell me that the climate is changing? What harm can one little car do? True, there may be some environmental and/or justice issues involved, but I really need this car. Besides, I’m a good person; I deserve to have some of the good things in life, don’t I? (“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world [or perhaps just a shiny new car] and forfeit his life [or the lives of generations to come]?”)
“You duped me, O Lord …” I thought that “following Jesus” just meant going to church on Sunday and generally trying to be a nice person. Taking up the cross of moral responsibility can be downright uncomfortable, not to mention time-consuming. For instance, I don’t have time to check out the corporate ethics of every company I buy from or own stock in. In today’s tight economy, as long as the price is low and the return high that’s all I care about (“… thinking not as God does, but as human beings do …”).
Jesus’ words might have made sense 2,000 years ago but this is 2017. We’re good Christians; we live good lives. Surely, God’s not asking us to sacrifice and be transformed, is he?
Surely these words aren’t meant for us.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.