Once upon a time, a man approaches our Lord Jesus Christ with a complaint that his cross is too heavy and troublesome for him. Our Lord responds by taking him to a house full of crosses of different types and shapes. He asks him to drop the cross he was carrying amid the other crosses and pick another befitting cross.
The man drops his cross and takes his time to look around. He sees big crosses, medium crosses and just one cross that looks smaller than others, and he quickly picks it up. Our Lord asks him if that is his final choice and he says: “yes it feels good and I can bear it.” At this point, our Lord tells him that it was the same cross he had when he entered the house. Your cross is your cross, and God gives you a cross knowing that you can carry it.
In the Gospel Reading of today (Matt. 16:21-27) our Lord Jesus Christ gives us the precondition for discipleship. He begins why describing his “cross” which consists of going to Jerusalem, suffering, and dying. He also added that he would he would rise on the third day.
Peter interrupts our Lord’s exposition of his cross by taking him aside and rebuking him for thinking about taking the cross. Hear Peter: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you”. Peter’s statement implies that our Lord should not go ahead to pay the price for our sins. He is saying “God forbid our redemption through the cross.” This statement could not come from God, and our Lord reply to Peter says it all, “Get behind me Satan.”
It is instructive to learn that the same Peter who professed our Lord last Sunday as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” is today declaring negatively though under a different influence. The devil can speak through the best of us if we give him the opportunity or foothold (Eph. 4:27).
The central point of the narrative which preoccupies us here is our Lord’s instruction after replying sharply to Peter’s rebuke under Satan’s infiltration. He says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Here, we have a profound message that would sustain the rest of our reflection.
- “DENY YOURSELF”
A biblical understanding of denial is evident during the arrest of our Lord Jesus Christ when Peter dissociates himself from our Lord Jesus Christ before the rooster crows twice (Matt. 26:69-75). It is easy to deny others but to deny oneself is a difficult thing to do because it means losing our identity and values and who wants to do that?
In the passage, our Lord instructs that whoever wishes to come after him should deny himself. How and to what extent? To deny oneself is a deeper and more extensive way of saying that one should be selfless. In this sense, we are instructed to drop our preconceived values, social status, personal qualities, and other excitable things and focus on our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not by accident that denying of oneself comes before taking up the cross and following Christ according to the chronology of the instruction. It takes humility and self-abasement to take up the cross. With our old selves and ideas, taking the cross would be foolishness. Denying ourselves means discarding the “old us” and adopting a “new us” which involves configuration to Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
We deny ourselves effectively when we drop our objectives, ideas, plans, and desires for what God has for us. We deny ourselves when we anchor on those prayerful words of Jesus Christ at Gethsemane: “Father, let your will happen not my will.” (Luke 22:42).
- “TAKE UP YOUR CROSS”
Whenever we hear about the cross, our minds often run to suffering and remain there. This approach dates to the time of Christ when the Roman government required criminals and public sinners to die on the cross after carrying it to the location of their execution. At that time, the cross represents shame, suffering, and death. Hence, cursed is anyone who dies on the cross (Deut. 21:23).
With the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work using the cross, it gains a new meaning. First, our Lord replaces the curse of the cross with a blessing (Gal. 3:13). Second, the cross opens the way to redemption. Looking at the cross very attentively, we can discover three basic realities.
- The cross is a plus sign. In mathematics, addition comes with a plus sign which is the sign of the cross. Hence the cross adds value to us if we carry it for and with the Lord.
- The cross is a weapon against the enemy. Christ’s victory over sin and death was on the cross when he said “it is finished”(John 19:28-30). The cross remains our weapon of victory. In fact, when you turn the cross upside down you see the image of a sword.
- The cross is a platform (ladder) that helps us to scale through obstacles and gaps in our lives.
- “FOLLOW ME”
To follow someone is more than physically moving behind the person in question. It involves taking up the individual’s lifestyles, thought patterns and values. Following Christ means becoming “another Christ” in words and actions.
In the Second Reading (Romans 12:1-2), St. Paul instructs us to follow Christ by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God as well as not conforming to this age but accepting transformation by the renewal of our minds and discerning the perfect will of God.
In the Gospel of Matthew (11:29) our Lord says: “Take my yoke and learn from me….” In other words, our Lord enjoins us to follow him by representing him in our lives. While taking up the cross that brought our salvation, our Lord did not complain. Though he failed three times and had someone help him at some point, he did not give up until the purpose reaches fulfillment.
As we enter into the new week, let us keep our minds on the vocation to deny ourselves, carry the cross and follow our Lord. The journey will not end in suffering rather it would be a triumphant victory through the cross through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.