Sunday after Holy Cross (Gal. 2:16-20, Mk. 8:34-38; 9:1)
Jesus' explains the meaning of the cross in the life of the believer
8:34 The Lord said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Εἶπεν ὁ Κύριος· Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.
At this point the tone is suddenly intense. Jesus' ministry is now focused on the unpleasant topic of suffering and teaching the people and the disciples the cost of true discipleship: self-denial, carrying one's cross (a symbol of suffering), and obedience to Christ. By saying "let him deny himself, and take up his cross, Jesus means His followers should separate themselves from their sins and from the inclination of their hearts towards evil (Gen. 8:21), crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24)
As we heard in the previous Sunday's Jesus' words and directives are exceedingly simple and coherent, lucid and clear.
4 essential elements:
1. Who: Anyone who wishes to "come after me"
2. Step 1: Deny yourself (that is to say, deny the inclination of your heart towards evil – towards ego, towards self, towards sin) – these are strong words about the true nature of humanity, of you and I – but they are rooted in truth, they are rooted in the very words of The Lord (see below) – and stand in stark contrast to our "nice guy", water-down view of human nature that we'd like to adapt in our modern western society. When we deny ourselves, we mitigate sin and it's affects – perhaps that is the very moment, that we ought least to suffer? Right. After all, look how great we are, how great we can be, we have "denied ourselves" - but there is more...
Gen. 8:21 And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done.
Gal 5:24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
3. Step 2: Take up your cross (obedience to Christ, acceptance of suffering, crucifying the flesh with it's passion and desires) – Christ was not only not engaged in sin at the moment of giving these instructions – he indeed never sinned – he was without sin – yet, despite this His end by the worlds standards was inglorious. But how could this be – this is counterintuitive – we deny the sinful self, we deny the turning inward towards self, we mitigate sin and its origins in our life, and the rewards is step 2? Now you are fit to "take up your cross", that is to say, to "suffer" – and to far greater degree and pitch that before?
There is suffering which we think of as "incidental", that is, that we do not chose, but that is not what the Lord is speaking of here. The Lord is speaking of the type which could otherwise be avoided, but is not. And is this any different that an affirmative choice to suffer. To suffer for Love. In our hearts deepest desires man seeks out Love. He seeks to Love and to be Loved in return, and yet, the average man will do everything at the same time to avoid suffering – and the two are thought to be irreconcilable – but they are not. At first glance we want one but not the other, and yet, because of the true nature of the world, one is absolutely and irreparably contingent upon the other. If you Love honestly, if you Love fully, if you Love as Christ did, and not the way the world tells you to, you cannot avoid Suffering – so we might as well "take up our cross" proactively – for our suffering will be no "incidental".
The world cannot accept the chain of events that self-denial ushers in – so the meaning and definition of Love itself is altered to accommodate – let's say something a bit more palatable. And the nature of Man is also altered to accommodate -
And yet Jesus' words are the only response to overwhelming evil in the world, when the deck is stacked against us to an overwhelming degree. How do we combat evil and sin if it is the very nature of man? The only path that includes keeping one's sanity are the words of Christ – counterintuitive as they may seem, they are the words that unlock the power and mystery of God's work and God's Kingdom – there is one very good example of course of this in practice – in fact it is an ultimate example – an ultimate Archetype.
4. Finally: "Follow Me" - if we set aside ourselves, to put the other first, and the other is God, and we "take up our cross" and suffer "willingly", than the final instructions are clear and require no further explanation.
8:35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life (soul) for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
ὃς γὰρ ἂν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι, ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δ᾿ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ψυχὴν ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, οὗτος σώσει αὐτήν.
In the first instance "for whoever would save his life..." means to focus one's earthly life on self (the "me" society, or the "I" society – εγώ, ego). This is the antithesis of self-denial (or sacrifice), and ultimately results in the loss of eternal life.
What is meant by "To lose one's life"? It is to accept suffering and sacrifice for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom? Is this is the road to salvation?
Discipleship actually has a great price: it requires giving up all interest to everything the world values and endears – just try it – friends will be somewhat harder to come by – for this is not the ways of the world.
8:36-37 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life (soul)?
τί γὰρ ὠφελήσει ἄνθρωπον ἐὰν κερδήσῃ τὸν κόσμον ὅλον, καὶ ζημιωθῇ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ;
(Soul – Gr. Psyche), also translated "life" (v.35), can refer to our spiritual nature or the whole human being. Nothing is more valuable to us than our souls. These are very powerful words about our work and activities -
8:38 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτὸν ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.
9:1 And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.
Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰσί τινες τῶν ὧδε ἑστηκότων, οἵτινες οὐ μὴ γεύσωνται θανάτου ἕως ἂν ἴδωσι τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐληλυθυῖαν ἐν δυνάμει.
"The Kingdom of God present with Power" is connected to the previous words about the Son of Man coming in glory (8:38). A foretaste of this glory is evidenced at the transfiguration, which anticipates future revelatory moments of God's power: the Resurrection of Christ and Pentecost, as well as the consummation of the Kingdom.
These eschatological or "end time" inferences are extremely important – because it takes us out of the present and into the future. That is the core of Hope and of Faith – without which, as we learned before, we cannot Love. And to suffer without Love, is insanity and masochism – and ultimately it is self-directed, arrogant, egotistical – and above all meaningless.
That is where those who honestly take up their cross and follow Christ live – in the future. They do not live in the present – look at the lives of the saints – with faith in Christ there is no suffering in this world which was or is too great, and through faith and hope, in a Kingdom other than this one, one which his quite unlike this world – the Saints "followed Christ". And all of the sufferings of this world were and are understood and cast in a clear light as temporary, before the immovable truth and beauty of a great reality which is unchanged, permanent, infinite – and most satisfying to those deepest desires of our hearts.