"What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"
In today's Gospel we hear our Lord confronting us with the basic truth that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world are on opposite planes and operate by vastly different rules. In the kingdom of heaven it is the poor who are rich, the foolish who are wise, the weak who are strong, the last who are first, and those who willingly choose to die who inherit eternal life.
He begins this exhortation with the call for each one to "deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me," (v. 24). This is a picture of a trial, conviction, and condemnation. The accused is denied his rights to life and liberty because he is found guilty of a capital crime. He is then led out for public execution. The disciples understood very well that to see a man carrying a cross meant he had no future plans or ambitions of his own. He was to die shortly. Jesus uses this illustration to show us graphically what it means to be a disciple. Before we can embrace the life that Jesus offers, we must first find our old life of sin guilty of treason against the King of heaven, and, therefore, led out for public execution. We are to be the executioner. That is, we are to put our old life of sin to death. Only in doing so can we hope to gain the eternal life that Christ offers.
However, the unfortunate truth of our present time is that we think that we can live very comfortably in both kingdoms. We expect to enjoy all that this world has to offer and still inherit eternal life as well. Look back at our Lord's teaching. This is not what He is saying. Furthermore all of the Gospels, the teaching of the Church, it's history, and the lives of the saints show us exactly the opposite. We are called to make a choice. We will either have our pleasure here or hereafter, but not both.
This cannot be merely theoretical. So many would easily say that they are obeying Jesus. But their lives demonstrate something completely different. Our time, our plans, our ambition, and, yes, our money are all offered to God to be placed at His disposal if we are truly living out this teaching of our Lord.
The question must be asked then: how much does it cost to gain eternal life? Some would say nothing; Christ paid it all. Others would say a great deal. But our Lord is telling us it will cost us everything. Does the price seem too high? Then He asks us the question, what will you give in exchange for your life? What is worth so much to you that you would keep it and forfeit your own life? When measured against eternity, the things of this world do begin to look pretty paltry.
What difference would it make if we gain the whole world, but lose our own soul in the end? What is worth the price that Christ requires? Do we hang on to our profits, pleasures, possessions, positions, prestige, or popularity? Are these worth more than our own souls? Do we really think our Lord asks for too much?
Today we deal with the uncomfortable truth that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world are at war. As surely as someone could not be a loyal citizen of two nations at war with each other, so we cannot live comfortably in both kingdoms. We must make a choice. What will we choose?