A lot of people think religions are developed out of a kind of spiritual wishful thinking. We want our lives to go on forever, so we invent a cosmic taxonomy that supports that belief, along with a set of rules and requirements to achieve it. I don’t know about you, but if I were given a chance to invent a new religion, it would probably not have many of the tenets of the Christian faith. Do I really want to love my enemies, sell all my possessions and give them to the poor, of follow Jesus on his road to execution?There are many aspects of the Christian faith that are exceedingly difficult, and in today’s readings we have a couple of them. In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah talks about how he has been faithful to God: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”Getting beaten and spit upon does not sound like the calling of a self-invented religion. Nor does Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel reading. “He began to teach them,” writes St. Mark, “that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” We are called to deny ourselves the values of this culture for something far greater — for the experience of the unconditional love of God.Jesus tells his followers that he is going to be rejected and killed by the leaders of his own religion. Even Peter thinks that is not right, tries to rebuke him, and is in turn rebuked by Jesus (“Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”).And there’s more. Not only, Jesus tells his disciples, is their leader going to die; he also wants them to join him. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” Jesus declares. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it."Like I said, while some may take parts of the Christian faith and call it wishful thinking, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is far from that. Christ calls us to a radical commitment to a way of living that is pretty dramatically different than the prevailing culture. And it’s still different. We live in a culture where self-absorption, self-indulgence and self-promotion are expected and rewarded. Jesus calls us to something entirely estranged from those values. We are called to give, to serve, to love and to sacrifice.We are called to deny ourselves the values of this culture for something far greater — for the experience of the unconditional love of God. It’s not something we are told to wait for in the next life. It’s something we are offered now. Jesus says we need to relinquish the lives we have been taught and conditioned for to pursue something better. It’s not always easy to believe that a life of service and sacrifice is far richer than a life of self-enrichment. It’s not something most of us would make up if we were designing our own religion. But it is the call and promise of our faith.Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]