Two weeks ago our own Jacki Tootell lent me a book by Tony Dungy, who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then took the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl. Dungy is widely considered one of the best coaches in the game, but his book is not really about football. Dungy is a Baptist, (though he had the good sense to marry an Episcopalian), and a strong, vocal Christian, and the book is really a look at his relationship with God at different stages in his life. In one chapter Dungy writes about his difficulties deciding on which job offer to take: he could go where he would make big money but compromise his values, or he could go where he felt most comfortable, where he felt God was leading him. He chose the latter, making about a tenth of what he would have made at the former but keeping his integrity in the process. When asked why he gave up the chance at big money and advancement, he quoted his Lord: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
Dungy certainly isn’t the first person to use that quote from our Lord, but he seems like one of the few who purposely live it. In my former life in business, I would be reminded of the principle behind what Jesus was saying from time to time, but I can think of only one instance in which I made an actual life decision based on it. Since that time, this little section of Matthew has become one of my favorites, not because Jesus is speaking out against the indolent rich (because He’s not), but because Jesus is, in His own very plain but very meaningful way, putting a price on each of our heads.
Jesus and His disciples had been on an extended walking tour of Israel and its surrounding areas. With the possible exception of St. Matthew, this was a new thing, this wandering around, seeing the sights, meeting new and rather strange people. For a group of guys who were mostly blue collar and a little rough around the edges, getting into fights with priests and Pharisees was not on the daily to-do list; watching your Teacher rid people of demons and control the weather and multiply food is not really on anybody’s to-do list, so the disciples were probably always a little off kilter, not knowing what on earth would come next. When we catch up with them in today’s Gospel lesson, Peter had just had his big win, right, stating correctly that Jesus is the Christ, and not only a savior, but the Savior, the Son of the living God. Well, it seems that Peter was able to enjoy that win for a day or two, during which Jesus told them about what was going to happen to Him when they circle back to Jerusalem. Peter, feeling strong, through Jesus’ words back in His face: Heck no, Jesus, that won’t happen to you! Peter’s hope for a winning streak came to an abrupt end with Jesus calling Peter Satan himself.
And then Jesus said something that probably has Calvin still rolling around in his grave. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” Jesus is saying about 50 different things here, but for us today, let’s look at 3 quick lessons. One, we have some power over our own soul. The things that we do actually effect us, we can work out our salvation or damnation. In other words, we are in no way pre-destined to heaven or to hell. Two, our soul is worth something; our souls can, in some way, be weighed and measured. To say it in another way, our souls have a price. Three, God always knew what that price was, and now we know as well. We all have a price on our heads, and that price is so high that all the riches in the world cannot pay it.
As it turns out, the price of a life is a life. And not just any life, but an innocent life, the life of the only man who had no price on His head. The cross of Christ is used for many things and none of us go real far around here without seeing one around someone’s neck or in a picture or on a steeple. The cross is a symbol of weakness and strength, of pain and salvation, its beauty is both tragic and hopeful. The cross is also the weight against which your soul is weighed. If it were not for the cross of Christ, what would you give in return for your soul?