We live in a society that elevates the individual. We have a tendency in America to see ourselves as the center of the universe. Statements such as “I don’t like what the government is doing with my tax dollars,” or “I don’t like what my church is doing so I’m not giving my money to it” show our self-focus. We don’t seem to realize that we are part of a larger community.
Mother Teresa said “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” It’s pretty hard to have peace when one’s chief aim in life is self-preservation. Dying to self and to self-interest is fundamental to being a follower of Jesus. We have to have a broader view of life than just what benefits us if we are to be light and salt for the world.
Sacrifice is integral to discipleship. Consider this quote from Thomas Merton: The sacrifice of our own will is necessary and pleasing to God whenever there is question of renouncing our individual, private good for a higher and more common good that will work both for our own salvation and the salvation of others. What matters then is not precisely what the sacrifice costs us, but what it will contribute to the good of others and of the Church. The norm of sacrifice is not the amount of pain it inflicts, but its power to break down walls of division, to heal wounds, to restore order and unity in the Body of Christ.
I wonder how Christianity would be perceived by observers if we who claim to be Christian were more focused on the common good, on breaking down walls of division, healing wounds and being bringers of real salvation—not just asking “are you saved?” but actually saving others by feeding, companioning, and loving them? Maybe if we were genuinely interested in the welfare of all with whom we share this planet, others would know who we follow without us having to tell them.
Such sacrifice, as Merton notes, does not have to be painful. Sacrifice is simply putting the interest of another ahead of my own self-interest. It is most often done in small, unobtrusive ways. It can begin by thinking communally rather than individually. If our decisions and choices are driven not by “me” and “mine” but by “your” and “our” that alone will change how we live as residents of this world.
Imagine how the world might be different if we widened our view and opened our hearts, minds and resources for the sake of others.