WHAT WOULD A MAN GIVE IN EXCHANGE FOR HIS LIFE? This is a question that Jesus asks each of us. He poses it to us quite directly here at the liturgy this morning as we listen to the passage from the Gospel of Mark. WHAT WILL YOU GIVE IN EXCHANGE FOR YOUR LIFE? Of course, it is not only in the liturgy or when we read this text in the Gospels that he confronts us with these searching words; he asks us this same question repeatedly, implicitly and without words, in numberless ways. Every time we are confronted with some human choice, with some person or situation that calls for a response on our part, we are in fact answering this query concerning the value we place on our life. Wittingly or unwittingly, we are so situated in this world that every human act and deliberate thought is a response to this provocative challenge: WHAT WILL YOU GIVE IN EXCHANGE FOR YOUR LIFE?
The word used by the Lord which is translated as "life", , is based on the Hebrew term "nephesh" which has also the meaning "soul": WHAT WILL YOU GIVE IN EXCHANGE FOR YOUR SOUL? That soul which, Jesus reminds us elsewhere, is much greater than our life in this world. "Tell me, you who hear these words, not by your words only but by your whole manner of living, tell me what is the price you set upon your soul? At moments of choice, whether in dealing with temptation or with opportunity for good, whether we are at ease or in distress, at times of success and when oppressed by difficulties and laboring under the necessity of struggle, consciously or unaware, we respond to this question which so permeates our human experience that it is inescapable.
It is obvious from the whole tenor of this passage that the lesson Jesus intends to teach on this occasion is that the soul is beyond price; nothing in this world suffices to purchase a single soul. In this passage he does not tell us why this is so; he simply affirms it emphatically. We know from other occasions, however, that he considers the soul to be the place of God. The soul is the dwelling place of the Father and of the risen Son, as he was to reveal to his apostles shortly before his death. "We will come to you and dwell with you." The true worth of our soul, in his eyes, is measured by God himself who is beyond all measurement. Nothing in this created world, nothing short of God himself, can serve to measure the worth of our soul because, created in the image of God, it is ordered to the infinite.
God is our destiny. Today's feast commemorates St. Polycarp whose martyrdom bore such an impressive witness to this stirring truth. Because he was so convinced that God Himself alone is the measure of our capacity for life, for love and for joy, he went to his death with enthusiasm, as to his fulfillment.
If the Lord reveals these truths to us, and reminds us of them in the context of this Eucharist, it is in order to assure us that our faith in him is sure to find fulfillment. We our selves hear this word of the Lord this morning not simply as instruction or a mere reminder of our dignity and worth but as a pledge of our call to an eternal life shared with him in the company of his Father. Let us make it our purpose to prove faithful to his invitation to make of our soul the place of his dwelling even now, and to prepare it with ever greater dedication to live worthy of the members of the household of God.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
© Abbey of the Genesee
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