Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:38-39).
I turn on the television and listen to one of the many prosperity preachers promising everyone within earshot of his sermon that, if they will take Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they will always enjoy happiness, wealth, and health.
I log into social media groups and read postings by people who define themselves as spiritual counselors and therapists promising a pathway to happiness, peace of mind, and success.
I surf the Internet and find endless numbers of life coaches asserting that life should be easy and offering to teach their clients how to make life easy.
And each time I encounter these promises of happiness, wealth, and an easy life, I think of the life of Jesus, and of Mary’s fiat, and of Joseph’s devotion. I think of their struggles and their sacrifices and their commitments to do God’s will, and I wonder to myself if they would have been happier and wealthier if they had access to one of these modern-day preachers, spiritual counselors, and life coaches. And, then, I wonder to myself if the example of their lives and Jesus’ message have become obsolete in a world where everyone can find a way to feel good all the time, and where feeling good all the time is their only spiritual goal, their primary life goal.
And, then, I recall addressing parishioners in a variety of churches across the country on Jesus’ message in Matthew 10:34-39, after which the pastors of these churches confided in me that they never discuss that passage in the New Testament because it was too upsetting to most of their people.
And, so, I question when it was that we abandoned the reality of Jesus’ life and his message and began to convert our spiritual journey into just another way to get a dopamine “high,” seeking pastors and spiritual counselors and life coaches as we would seek drug dealers who promise that their products will make us feel good all the time.
Was it in the 60’s when the drug culture began to escalate, both on the streets and on the doctors’ prescription pads? Was it in the 60’s when we were facing the tangible possibility of a nuclear war with Russia that could annihiliate our world as we knew it? Did the convergence of available drugs and the fear of annihilation convince us to abandon ourselves, our souls, and our commitment to serving God’s purpose for our lives and to run headlong into a desperate addictive search for instant gratification, for happiness, peace of mind, and wealth?
Or, I ask, were we always like this? And is this why Jesus counseled us not to take the easy way: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Whether we were always like this, or whether a series of converging events in the last century shifted our focus from a commitment to serving God to a commitment to serving ourselves, I wonder if we will ever put God first; or are we, now, so hopelessly addicted to feeling good all the time that, even when we go to church, all we care to do is to get “high” on God, on sermons that promise us that we will always be happy and wealthy.