Herald Journal Columns
Aug. 23, 2004 Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

There is a price to pay

By Pastor Paul Marggraf, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Delano

Gone are the days when virtue was its own reward. Bribing people with money to perform a civic duty or to do the decent thing used to be considered morally reprehensible. Not any more!

Various programs around the country now offer teenagers cash for simply attending school. I read about one program that hands out dollar bills to teenage girls for each day they don’t get pregnant.

Not surprisingly, this sort of thing has caught on in religious circles too. The Christian Church Fellowship of Frederick, Md., for example, offers newcomers $10 each for attending worship services.

In Sommerville, Miss., a Father Ferrara passes out coupons offering his parishioners 50 percent off the penance for their sins. They can atone for their sins, for example, by doing 15 “Hail Marys,” instead of the customary 30.

Advocates of this kind of thing tell us that it works. No doubt it does. But there is a price to pay. It teaches people a “what’s in it for me?” attitude toward religion, and that only fools and fanatics do something just because it’s right and good and true.

Jesus, on the other hand, never hid the hard facts from his disciples, nor did he appeal to our baser human instinct for self-interest. He laid it on the line: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He flatly renounces the comfortable idea that personal happiness is the be-all and end-all of our existence.

You can be appalled by his harsh words, but it’s impossible to misunderstand them: “following” Jesus involves sacrifice and suffering. The “come and get something” approach undermines the redemptive value of suffering—Christ’s and ours.

It is no accident that the word “bless” comes from the word “blood.” There can be no blessing without someone’s blood, sweat and tears.

In Christ’s voluntary suffering and self-sacrifice, countless souls have found life, hope and healing. It is to that standard that Christ calls us and promises to build blessings from our suffering:

“...and whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.