Perhaps the most difficult lesson Jesus ever taught is found in these words from Mark’s Gospel: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (8:35).
A man was walking among the rocks on a hillside and suddenly slipped and plunged over a cliff. As he was falling, his arm shot and his hand grabbed a branch that broke through the rocks on the cliff-face. But the branch wasn’t a very sturdy one and there was no way for him to climb back up. So the man screamed for help – “Help me, help me! Is there anyone up there? Help me, anyone!” Suddenly he heard a voice respond – “Have no fear. I’ll help you.” The man asked, “Who is that up there?” “It is God,” the voice responded. And God told him, “Just let go of the branch and then I will carry you up to safety.” “What?” the man said.“Let go of the branch and then I will carry you up to safety.”
The man thought about it for a minute, then called out, “Is there anyone else up there?”
The way that Jesus invites us to undertake is not the way we would prefer. In fact, we’d take just about any other way we could. But sometimes there is no other way. Philip Yancy notes that in his career as a writer and journalist he has interviewed a wide range of people whom he divides roughly into two types: the stars and the servants. For the stars – NFL football greats, famous authors, TV personalities – he has sympathy. These “idols,” he says, “are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met.” They appear to have more troubled marriages, tormented psyches, and incurable self-doubts than most. The servants, on the other hand – relief workers in Bangladesh or Ph.D.’s scattered through the jungles of South America translating the Bible into obscure languages – are the favored ones.
“I was prepared to honor and admire these servants, to uphold them as inspiring examples. I was not prepared, however, to envy them. But as I now reflect on the two groups, stars and servants, the servants clearly emerge as the favored ones, the graced ones. They work for low pay, long hours, and no applause, ‘wasting their talents’ among the poor and uneducated. But somehow, in the process of losing their lives, they have found them.”
We cling to the branch sometimes, fervently clutching on to our own lives no matter how barren or how despairing they might be. But Jesus asks us to let go; to let go of our despair, to let go of our bitterness, to let go of our own empty answers. Instead, he offers us a way into hope and new life. It is a way whose first and most important steps are taken along paths of service and suffering. And, ultimately, there is no other way: “For whoever would save her life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides