He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
Jesus had only been talking to his disciples, but now he calls the crowds, who must not of been too far away, to come closer and listen in. He says something vital about being his follower. He says that any who desires to follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross. In Jesus time just mentioning a cross meant death.
So much of the time when we think of cross-bearing and denial we think of things we don’t necessarily want to do but force ourselves to do like a Weight Watchers program, or abiding by a special diet in order to control some health issue. We might even think about doing something for others, but it is thought of as just another chore for us. Some think that having a little less of the things you like is carrying a cross. Some think that a cross might be working in a job that you don’t enjoy, but you do it because you can buy more things for you and your family. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about at all. Instead I think he’s saying that the “life” that society and the world at large has sold us isn’t the life God intended for us. I think Jesus is saying that we need to die to those delusions the world tries to sell us in order to know the abundant life God wants us to have.
Most people think that life is something you go out and get– you earn it, buy it, or win it. Jesus is saying that life is like love, it can’t be won or earned or bought. It can only be only given away. And the more you give it away, the more you have. If you are a parent you recall when you held your new baby in your arms for the first time. You began to know what love really is. You melted in its presence. That baby called you to love beyond what you could have imagined. It is only when we love others that we begin to understand what God’s love really is, and only when we give away our lives for the sake of others do we discover it. Then amazingly somehow, when we think about how to fulfill others’ needs our own deepest needs are met. This love is the mystery of life and the key to the kingdom of God.
This love that we give away is totally counter-cultural because we live in a world of quid pro quo and scarcity, where we think that there is never enough, and the only thing we can count on are the things we own. Jesus challenges that by telling us that the only things we can hold onto are the things we give away– like love, mercy, kindness, and compassion.
So we need to look at what gives us the greatest joy in life, and what creates the deepest sense of purpose in our lives. Those are the things that make us feel most alive, and most true to the person that each of us believes God created us to be. When we think about this is it something we bought or earned? No, instead it is what we are able to give to others, time, service, caring for others. It seems Jesus is saying that cross-bearing is not about being less happy, but about discovering the real and abundant life – a kind of life the culture can hardly ever imagine. That life comes through sacrificial love in service to another. He tells us that it is in giving that we receive.
- What gives you the greatest joy in life and creates the deepest sense of purpose in life?
- What makes you feel most alive?
- What makes you feel like you are truly becoming what God intended you to be?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.