Pleasing God—or the World

Pleasing God—or the World

One Sunday afternoon in New York City, a man named Steve got on the subway and found a seat in a quiet car. Some of the people were reading the newspaper; others were dozing, and some were thinking or contemplating with their eyes closed.  Then at the next station a man and his four children entered the car.  Before long the kids were yelling and running around, throwing things and even grabbing people’s newspapers.  Throughout this disturbance the father just sat there and did nothing.  Steve couldn’t believe the man was letting his kids misbehave this way, and he—like the other passengers—was becoming more and more irritated.  Finally Steve decided to appoint himself spokesman for the other passengers; with polite words, but a no-nonsense tone of voice, Steve said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little bit more.”  The man’s attention seemed to come into focus, and he looked around as if seeing the situation for the first time; then he answered, “Oh, you’re right; I guess I should do something about it.  Please forgive me for being distracted, and my kids for misbehaving.  You see, we just came from the hospital where their mother died an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it, either.” Describing the situation later, Steve wrote, “You can imagine how I felt.  Suddenly I saw everything differently.  I wasn’t irritated any more; I was filled with compassion for the man, and I said, ‘Oh, your wife just died?  I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it?  What can I do to help?’” (Bausch, A World of Stories,, p. 214).

Technically speaking there was nothing different in that subway car; it still contained the same irritated passengers, the same annoying children, and the same upsetting disturbance.  For Steve, however, everything changed because he saw the situation from a new perspective; his irritation was immediately replaced with sympathy and concern for a fellow human being.  This is what faith is supposed to do for us.  As Christians, we must have a Christ-centered perspective; this means caring about others and seeking God’s approval, not the world’s.

Jesus gives us His perspective on life in the Gospel of Luke (6:17, 20-26). Some groups of people are blessed, and some are cursed.  The important thing to note is that these groups are the reverse of what worldly wisdom would suggest.  According to Jesus, it can be bad news to be rich, well-fed, amused, and popular, and it can be good news to be poor, hungry, sorrowful, and hated.  Everything depends on whether we’re seeking God’s glory or our own.  Living for ourselves ultimately leads to misery, even if it seems enjoyable at first; suffering for the Name of Jesus leads us to everlasting joy, even if it’s difficult or unpleasant for the time being.  Our Lord is calling us to see everything from a larger, holier perspective. The importance of this message is echoed throughout Scripture. For instance, Jeremiah (17:5-8) insists that those who trust in the world are cursed, for their hopes will wither away and their dreams will be shattered; those who trust in the Lord, however, will be nourished and protected like a tree planted near life-giving water. In his First Letter to the Corinthians (15:12, 16-20), St. Paul applies this theme specifically to the question of Christ’s Resurrection.  Those Christians who let themselves be contaminated by a worldly view that says it’s impossible for Jesus to have been bodily raised from the dead are actually making their own faith worthless; it won’t save them, and will merely cause them to look foolish without anything to show for it.  Only those Christians willing to appear foolish in the eyes of the world by truly living out their faith in Christ will be freed from their sins and raised up to eternal life.  In short, we can try to please God, which will end up gaining us everything, or we can try to please the world, and ultimately end up with nothing at all.

If we truly see things from Our Lord’s point of view, this will be reflected in our behavior.  For instance, we will not judge other people by their appearance or background.  The world does this all the time, but we’re called to a higher standard; we must respect the human rights and dignity of all people, even if they seem strange or different, for they too are made in God’s image and likeness.  As Christians, we must try to be honest, even when it would be easy to cheat on our taxes, underpay our bill at a store, or take something that’s not ours.  People who buy into the way of the world are always trying to get away with something, but true followers of Jesus know that we can’t put a price on integrity.  If we take Christ’s teachings seriously, we’ll show genuine concern for others in their moment of need.  Worldly people might say, “Don’t bother me; it’s not my problem”; disciples of Jesus are supposed to say, “What can I do to help?” If we value our faith, we’ll try to obey God’s commandments and do the morally right thing even when it’s not easy. Those who are infected by the false values of the world might ask, “What’s in it for me?”  Christians are supposed to ask, “Lord, what would You have me do?” If we accept everything Christ stands for, we’ll focus our attention on the coming of His Kingdom.  The world tells us, “Grab as much out of life for yourself as you can; indulge yourself and live for the present moment.”  Our faith tells us, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and you will be at peace in this life and eternally blessed in the life to come.” 

Every day, in every decision we make, in every offer of divine grace we accept or ignore, we are choosing whether we will be among those who are forever blessed or forever cursed.  These are the two alternatives Jesus presents in the Gospel—and He meant for us to take His words very seriously.  His Kingdom will last forever; everything the world offers us will sooner or later fade away. Having the proper perspective on life will make all the difference.  Let us humbly ask the Lord to enlighten our hearts and minds and to guide us in all our words and deeds.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper