Those of us with Facebook are daily bombarded with advertisements that are frighteningly targeted to us individually. When I was turning 40, for example, I began seeing more and more ads for “Metamucil” in my sidebar. So I am not surprised by these adverts now when I login.
However, now, advertisers are being more and more clever. The other day, I saw an “article” linked with the title “Essex Student Stuns Doctors with Crazy Method to Melt Fat.” Yeah? I was curious – and also cautious (I’m not that dumb!). I clicked on the link, and it took me to a website with the article. The page, “Diet-Insider.com," told the story of a young woman, “a girl from Middle River, a student at Cornell University,” and how she had lost “32 lbs off her waist in 1 month without ever using a dime of her own money.”
“Hmm,” I thought. “I could stand to lose 32 pounds off my waist, and this ‘local girl” did it without changing her eating habits or exercising at all!” I read the entire thing because I was amused. Her discovery? Apple cider vinegar – which I knew has health benefits - … combined with a little thing called “Extreme Fit 180 Cleanse.”
Ahh, there’s the rub! This Extreme Fit 180 Cleanse will cost me money, after an initial free trial. And this miracle girl actually participated in a marketing program. At the very end of the “article,” where no one would read it, we are told, “THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT AND NOT AN ACTUAL NEWS ARTICLE, BLOG, OR CONSUMER PROTECTION UPDATE.”
In other words, it is “Fake News.” And there are many, many more like this – not just advertising, but catering to people’s political leanings. “See the photo Hilary Clinton doesn’t want anyone to see!” (click) “The real reason Donald Trump is hiding his taxes.” (click) “You won’t believe what Pope Francis was doing last Thursday!” (click)
We will follow whatever appeals to our leanings, and sometimes we may even perpetuate this narrative without even verifying anything. I want to believe that a girl down the street in Essex lost weight without diet or exercise, because I want to lose weight without diet or exercise.
But that is very dangerous.
Today’s gospel is connected to last week’s revelation that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is now telling His disciples what the true Messiah is in for – and, by extension, what any of His disciples are to expect as well. “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” That is the truth – we know this. But the disciples’ response is denial. Peter doesn’t want to hear that. He proposes a better narrative: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Peter is chastised harshly for this statement of “alternative facts.” However, he is doing what many would-be disciples have done throughout the centuries – even to today. The message of suffering and hardship as integral to our Christian faith has always been difficult – even scandalous for some. Instead, we would rather listen to preachers who promise happiness and prosperity as a reward for our faith in Jesus. We want to believe that if I have faith in God my life will be easy, comfortable, and profitable.
The problem with this sort of “prosperity Gospel” is that it is not a gospel at all. Jesus made no such promises. In fact, He was very clear that discipleship would involve a “cross.” It would mean division in families and neighborhoods. It would entail “offering your bodies as a living sacrifice,” as St. Paul says.
Losing weight takes sacrifice – hard work, discipline, effort. There is no girl in Middle River who did this magical program. If I checked onto Facebook when I was in Maine a couple of weeks ago, the article would have told me she lived in Portland. People will tell you what you want to hear to get you to do what they want you to do. Jesus want you to have life and have that life to the full. He also lays out the Way to that life. It is not an easy way, but don’t be duped. Yes, discipleship requires sacrifice, devotion, and effort; but that same life of discipleship also leads to the everlasting life that Jesus came to give us.