In the gospel reading at Mass for the weekend of Sept. 12th and 13th, Jesus explained to His disciples that He would soon suffer greatly, be rejected by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and then be put to death. Naturally, His disciples thought this was awful, and Peter even took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for having such a negative attitude.
I can hear Peter now, trying to give Jesus a pep talk. “Hey Chief, you gotta think positive, man. Your self-esteem must be kinda low today. If you think bad things are gonna happen, then they will. C’mon, everything’s going great. The people love you; the crowds are growing each day; and your approval ratings in the latest Gallup Poll are off the chart! You’re gonna kick butt in the New Hampshire primary! Now, let’s see that big smile!”
Jesus was not impressed, nor did He smile. He immediately shouted at Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Whoa! Not exactly the words you want the Son of God to be tossing your way. Jesus also said to Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Jesus then explained to the crowd what He meant: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
Peter and the other disciples had been with Jesus for quite a while at this point. Although they didn’t fully grasp everything Jesus said, they understand some of His basic teachings. And yet, their biggest stumbling block was that they were “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
The same holds true for 21st century believers. We like to think we live good Christian lives. We go to church each week; we say our prayers most days; we may even spend some time reading the Bible. (For my fellow Catholics, we get extra credit if we can correctly name the first book in the Bible, “Genesis,” and the last book in the Bible, “Maps.”)
Despite all this outwardly religious stuff, do we really do as Jesus said, and deny ourselves? Are you kidding? This is a thoroughly foreign concept in the modern world. We don’t deny ourselves these days, we indulge ourselves.
Honestly ask yourself if there’s much self-denial involved with the following items: food, drink, money, credit card spending, entertainment, electronic devices, automobiles, vacations, home furnishings, and clothing?
How about the stuff you can’t as easily put a price tag on, such as blowing your own horn, wanting people to notice you, looking down your nose at others, getting offended when things don’t go your way, holding a grudge, and refusing to say you’re sorry?
I would venture to say that those of us who think that we think as God does are often fooling ourselves. (Trust me, I’m not exempting myself from this. How do you think I wrote the previous two paragraphs? I just sat back and thought about the things and the attitudes that dominate my life.)
Jesus tells us we must stop thinking as secular, natural man does, and start thinking as God does. This is certainly not easy, especially in this day and age when we are awash in consumer goods and constantly bombarded by the idea that being self-absorbed is a proper and healthy attitude.
If we at least correctly understand our predicament—that despite our outwardly religious actions we rarely “think as God does”—we can begin to move in the right direction. When we know we’re sick, we will seek a physician. People who are sick but think they’re healthy often wake up one day and find themselves dead. (OK, maybe they don’t exactly wake up, but you know what I mean.) When we seek the Great Physician, and begin to think more like He does, we can achieve the peace and serenity so plainly absent in today’s self-centered world.