“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”
Today we are presented with one of the most recurring themes of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel – the challenge of Christian Life of the importance of the cross in the life and/or a Christian. Again and again, Jesus confronted his disciples with the implications of being His follower. This is recorded in all the Four Gospels (Matthew 10: 37-39; Mark 8: 34-37; Luke 9: 23-27; 14: 25-27; 17: 33; John 12: 25). Jesus sets three conditions for effective Christian Life: self-denial; carrying of the cross daily; and following Jesus.
Self-denial: To deny oneself or self-denial means to give up something, perhaps some leisure or luxuries or delicacies, often for some good purpose. But what Jesus means is something more demanding, Jesus means that if we have to be truly His own we have to in every moment stand on His side, even against our will and desires; even when it hurts and is embarrassing; even when it’s harmful and dangerous. Jeremiah experienced this as God’s prophet as we hear him lament in the First reading (Jeremiah 20: 7-9) “The Word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision, all day long.” Yet, he had to continue to speak as the Lord directed. For true self-denial means a life of constant “Yes!” to the God and “No!” to the self. To deny oneself in this sense is to do and say only what God wants; it means to put God first in all considerations and choices that we make. It means to dethrone the self and enthrone God in all calculations. A life of constant self-denial is a life of constant assent to God. Jesus Himself lived out His life in complete self-denial. His life was that of fulfilment of the Will of the Father; “My Will is to do the Will of My Father” (John 6: 38). For Jesus living meant doing the Father’s Will in all things at all times.
Take Up Your Cross: A cross is a burden, a load, a difficult thing to carry; it is not something pleasurable and desirable. No one really goes out there to carry a cross for leisure. It is in fact a sacrifice to do so. To take your cross, as Jesus demands, could mean to accept a burden of sacrifice freely; to accept whatever conditions we find ourselves, good or bad, in an uncomplaining manner and to offer it to God in loving obedience. Our lives as Christians mean living a life of selfless sacrifice and service to God and to others. It implies the ability to let go for the good of others and because that is what it pleases God to do. Taking up the cross is a life of patient endurance with joyful hope. Sometime ago I got a very interesting animation from one of my friends via WhatsApp media: it was an illustration on the significance of the cross in our lives. Each person in the story had a long cross, which they had to carry as they walked along. It got to a point it became too heavy: some dropped off; others cut theirs shorter; and a few struggled on. They journeyed on to a point where there was a deep gulf that they needed to get across to the other side. The ones with the shorter crosses found out that their crosses were too short as the others who had the complete crosses used them as a bridge to walk across the cliff. The crosses we carry today may be all we need to achieve some great goals tomorrow. God gives us the burdens that we can carry. When God gives us a burden, do not ask why because at the end of the road you will understand that it was the best thing God decided for you. Endurance and perseverance are the key words as we carry the crosses in our lives.
Follow Jesus: The challenge to follow Jesus is an invitation to a life of perfect obedience to Jesus, who is our leader. The Christian life must be a life lived in imitation of the Master. “Be holy for I am Holy” (Leviticus 11: 44). “You are My friends if you do what I command you to do” (John 15: 14). To follow Jesus means to listen to Him and to Him alone. In the first part of the Gospel (Matthew 16: 21-27) Jesus called Peter “Satan” and commanded him to “get behind” Him because, among other things, Peter was tempting Jesus to disobey The Father. His persuasion was contradicting the Will of God for Jesus and on that occasion Peter was playing the role of Satan, the tempter. In following Jesus, we must be able to recognise the voice that contradicts that of the Master and rebuke it at all times. To follow Christ means to be different; to have the courage to stand alone in the crowd of contrasting voices. It means, as St Paul says in the Second Reading (Romans 12: 1-2): “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind.” To follow Christ means to act as Christ would in all situations. These are what we called to do.