Daily Reflection
August 11th, 2006

Robert P. Heaney

John A. Creighton University Chair
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Memorial of St. Clare
Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7
Deuteronomy 32:35cd-36ab, 39abcd, 41
Matthew 16:24-28

“What can one give in exchange for one’s life.”

This question, which is found in both Matthew and Mark, immediately follows Jesus’ response to Peter, who, recognizing Jesus as the promised king who would restore Israel, urges Him not to go up to Jerusalem and put himself in danger. Jesus’ saying has to be seen in that context in order to be rightly understood. Otherwise the phrases “take up his cross”, “renounce himself”, and the paradox about losing one’s life in order to save it, are likely to be taken as a general counsel mainly to self-denial or asceticism. Self-control is obviously a good thing, but it is not an end in itself. Its focus remains, satisfyingly, one’s self. Jesus’ focus here is mission – doing His Father’s will and accepting whatever may be the consequences.

Self-protection, which is a natural enough instinct, too easily morphs into self-aggrandizement (“gaining the whole world”). The verb “exchange” in Jesus’ question is the Greek word for “ransom” – the buying back of someone held captive. We are all captives of our desires, our possessions, our culture, and perhaps most importantly, our self-esteem. If we are to follow Jesus, as in the opening phrase in today’s reading, we have to understand that it is his work he is referring to, not his self-discipline. Jesus is the exemplar of authentic human life – a life totally other-directed, totally self-giving, totally focused on doing His Father’s will, i.e., calling people to true life, a life modeled on His own total self-giving.

Carrying the cross (through the streets of the city) was a part of the Roman method of execution precisely because it shamed the condemned criminal. Following Jesus – i.e., doing his work in today’s world – may not bring us actual crucifixion, but it is likely to bring us embarrassment and loss of esteem – something we try to avoid at all costs. To be held in high esteem by the world may be, for many of us today, what “gaining the whole world” means.

A focus primarily on one’s own salvation is not the way to be saved, for it is precisely our self-interest that stands between us and real life.

Click on the link below to send an e-mail response
to the writer of this reflection.
Let Your Friends Know About This Reflection By Sending Them An E-mail


Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook