Jesus called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8:34
In the past few weeks we have heard about the call to follow Jesus. We heard about Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathan’a-el, and how they heard the call, and responded to it.
Today, we heard more about the words of Jesus to those who would follow him. Jesus said we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses.
So what does that mean exactly?
Last week I spoke about how when I make myself the center of the universe, when it’s all about me, I am hurting not only everyone around me, but myself as well.
To deny myself then, is to to the opposite. To deny myself is to deny my self will, my self-centeredness. This is not easy! I struggle with this every day. And I confess that most days, I am not very good at it.
Everything in our world points in a different direction. Take the Olympics for example. There is some emphasis put on the team events, but for the most part, it’s the individual events that get the headlines.
Everyone dreams of winning the Gold Medal. They may say it’s for their country, but it’s really for themselves.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to work hard toward your goal, because nothing that’s worth anything is easy. Just be honest about whom it’s for.
The race that is worth running is the one that St. Paul mentions in his letter to the Philippians: I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This is the goal that has an eternal reward. An Olympic Gold Medal is a great thing, but it is temporal. It only lasts for a short time.
The reward of Eternal life is forever. It is the goal that we can all reach for. Sometimes there are things that just get in our way.
That happened to Jesus, too. When he was explaining to the disciples about he must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Peter, of all people, began to rebuke him. Jesus had some harsh words for Peter, didn’t he? Get behind me, Satan! Jesus wasn’t about to let anything, or anyone, hinder him in his journey toward our salvation.
He was tested throughout his earthly life, not just during the 40 days in the desert. He learned to trust the Father, even in his darkest hour.
Abraham learned to trust the Father, too, in the story we heard today from Genesis. He was obedient to God as he journeyed out to the desert with his only son. Without knowing the details, Abraham spoke the words of faith: God will provide the lamb. Even though Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son to God, he had faith.
God stopped Abraham, and told him that he knew then that Abraham would not withhold his only son from him. Then God provided the lamb. This story foreshadows the sacrifice of the heavenly Father’s only son for the sake of the whole world. The Lamb that God would provide would be his only son. Remember the words of St. John the Baptizer, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
This is the Lamb that was sacrificed with the world. His walk to the cross, as depicted in these Stations was all for you and for me. He suffered more that we ever could. How then can I take up my own cross and follow him? What does that mean exactly?
I have seen people walking along the road dragging a cross on wheels, but I don’t think that is what he meant for me. I think the meaning of taking up one’s cross is to make a sacrifice of oneself. The best place to start is with the summary of the Law.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
These two commands involve sacrifice. To love the Lord with all of my heart, my soul, and my mind means that I love nothing more than him, not even myself. I must sacrifice everything else in order to love him first and foremost.
To love my neighbor as myself means to care about others as I care for myself. It means I should care for others as I care for myself. I am to put the needs of others before my own. This is the beginning of sacrifice, and there is much more that will be revealed as we go along.
These are rules to live by, and when I say rules, I mean standards to which you can compare your conduct. In the morning, I pray that I will love God most of all, and that I will love my neighbors as myself.
At the end of the day, I can ask my self, have I done these? If not, how can I do better? If we do this every day, we will soon be denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Christ, just as he has asked. God calls; will we answer? Amen.