Jeremiah 20: 7-9 – Romans 12: 1-2 – Matthew 6: 21-27
We have to give credit to the writers of the Gospels that they do not hesitate to remind us that we share with the Apostles Jesus chose the fact of being genuine human beings, with all the faults and failings that may be involved.. Today St. Matthew presents us with the example of St. Peter. Simon Peter had just declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Immediately afterward, he is rebuked for the reaction he made to Jesus when it is described what would be involved. Peter is reminded that he is responding in a typically human fashion rather than in accord with God’s will and saving plan. Jesus then tells the Apostles, and us, that in order to follow him, we must deny ourselves and take up the cross. These are familiar phrases. We have heard them often. Perhaps, however, they are too familiar and too easily simplified. How can we grow in our understanding of them?
To “deny ourselves” is not simply the idea of giving something up of whatever sort. To deny ourselves is to experience a complete sense of conversion. It means doing away, as best we can, with typically human ways of acting. To deny ourselves entails, as Jesus states, changing ourselves rather than thinking we can change God to fit our own purposes. In essence, it includes recognizing our own nothingness before God and abandoning our selfish and self-serving desires.
To “take up the cross” is often simplified when we think of it in terms of certain realities of life such as illness, injuries, our lot in life, as “crosse” we need to bear. Taking up the cross, rather, ought to be understood as “embracing the cross” and joining in the saving action of Christ. On the cross is seen the totality of God’s love for all of humanity and all of creation. It is that same love that is to be evident in our lives. The experience of God will be through us when we are united with the total self-giving on the cross.
What, then, does it mean fully to “follow” Christ? It involves, more than anything else, bringing the presence of Christ into every aspect of our lives. To follow Christ is to identify completely with Christ’s thinking and actions that reveal the Father, God. All of this demands a risk on our part. Thus we have also presented to us today the example of Jeremiah the prophet. He was being called upon to act in a way that was almost completely opposite of what he wanted. The cost of discipleship is so great that it even demands the giving up of life. This is not necessarily meant in a literal sense of physically dying for Christ although, as we know and have heard, in parts of the world even today this is true. Giving up our lives,, giving up the way we might want to live, does mean letting go of self-satisfying demands and judgements. If I am sincere in reflecting Christ in the midst of people, the decisions I make, the actions I perform, the words I speak, the attitude I show are all directed at making our loving God to be known, as was the whole direction of the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is in doing this that we incorporate in ourselves St. Pail’s admonitions: do not conform to the world, but conform to Christ; do not be afraid to bee transformed, to be changed, to be different; recognized what has genuine value and importance rather than what is superficial and transitory.
To deny ourselves, to take up the cross, to follow in ministry of Jesus, is what will reveal to ourselves and to our world the reality and the effect in us of our relationship with our good and gracious God.