One of the most puzzling phenomena of modern Christianity for me is the idea of the ‘prosperity Gospel’. The notion that giving your life to Christ can, in any way, bring profit in the secular world seems both a perversion of what Our Lord promised, and something of a delusion; but it was there from the beginning.
When the first Apostles said their momentous ‘yes’ to His summons, they could have had no idea what they were in for. That exemplar of Jewish mothers, the wife of Zebedee, wanted to know that it would all be worthwhile for her precious sons, James and John. But Christ promised her nothing, speaking, as so often, in words which would be understood fully only after the Resurrection. He asked whether they would be prepared to undergo the same baptism and drink of the same cup – to which they all said an easy ‘yes‘.It is plain enough that they had no idea what they were promising, as they all set to arguing which of them would be greatest in the kingdom of God; men do not follow Messiahs to make sacrifices, but rather to gain rewards.
Do we recognise ourselves there at all? Not just in the obvious, and very human, preoccupation with status, but in the swiftness and the optimism of our promise? After all, what was it the Apostles got? James was killed, as were Peter and Andrew, and of them all, only John seems to have survived to a good old age. They lived lives of hardship which ended in violent death at the hands of their enemies. Like the Son of Man, they gave their lives for the ransom of many.
Silver and gold was there none. St. Paul, famously, paid his own way, although insisting that the labourer was worthy of his hire. But we are told that ‘the world is passing away, and the lust of it’, although we, like the Apostles, seem firmly attached to it and its rewards. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, so he tells us too, the world in its present form is ‘passing away’.
Yet we are creatures of this world. It is the only one we know, and perhaps it was as well for the Apostles, as it is for us, not to know the full implications of our promises to the Lord’s Christ. let us be contnt with Newman, to say – ‘I do not ask to see the distant scene – one step enough for me.’
In the end, the Faith which compels our ‘yes’, compels what follows it – and we must trust to the strength to bear whatever Cross He asks of us. Bode’s wonderful hymn sums it up: ‘My hope to follow duly is in Thy strength alone.’ It is all too easy to think that our faith gives is strength to persevere, but it does so only in so far as we stand in Him.
The Gospel is foolishness to those who have not received its message. What is this – a crucified Messiah? If, as we say, He is omnipotent, then why did he hang and siffer there for us? Why did he not come down from the Cross and with the Angel host show us the fulness of his power? It was not because he could not, it was because he would not. If we are to enter into the kingdom, we have to understand that, and know that he is the way, the truth and the light, and though we cannot know the way, we can follow him.