……from your Pastor’s Desk
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.”
To understand today’s Gospel we must look back to a time in our lives when, in retrospect, we see that something or someone we wanted—and didn’t get—turned out to be the very best in the long run. Garth Brooks has a great song called ‘Unanswered Prayers’ about this very thing. I think we have all had that experience at least once. And – that is part of ‘Taking up your cross’. Even if by hindsight.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Denying ourselves anything is counter-cultural in our day and age. We live in a society and culture where more is better and most is best. Where what we want – we want NOW and where the very thought of not having or getting what we want is unconscionable. Of course, we all don’t live that way – but it seems to be the driving force in sales and advertising.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” It is important to note that Jesus says each person must take up their own individual cross – It does us well to remember that what a cross is for one… may not be a cross for another. Crosses are not one-size-fits-all.
Jesus was a carpenter – he knew how to fashion wood to perfection, to accomplish the task for which it would be assigned. Just as he perfected each cut in the wood and smoothed the yoke to match each Ox it was being made for, so too does he fashion our cross…for each of us, but not to weigh us down, not to weaken, but to strengthen. They are individually tailored to the person we are, precisely because they are designed to straighten out what we have made crooked:
- They are designed to rectify what we have corrupted through our poor choices.
- Sometimes they are to help others bear their own burdens because we all participate in the plan of salvation.
- What another cannot carry, we help to bear so that we all advance together.
We must always bear in mind that, like Simon of Cyrene, we do bear the cross, but we bear it for the One who takes away all sin, the One who makes the crooked straight and the lame walk.
Jesus doesn’t say we need to be nailed to it in the way He was. Rather, He tells us that our job, like that of Simon, is to bear part of the burden for all of humanity. Our part. In denying ourselves every whim, fancy and pleasure – we will see the Real needs in the REAL world around us, not the passing illusionary one, the one that changes with every new market ploy. We should not seek to throw off our cross, nor should we increase the weight of another’s cross, nor should we seek to completely carry a cross other than ours. We carry our crosses, but ultimately it was and is Jesus who is nailed to it. We bring the burden of sin, He takes it all away.
So, what does this all mean today, right here, right now for each one of us? Just this. Christ taught, if you want to follow me you have to think of others and not just about yourself, maybe even forget about yourself sometimes. We shouldn’t live always thinking about how much we can get, but rather how much we can give. Not always doing the most satisfying or pleasurable to do, but what is the right thing to do. Not what is the least we can do, but the most. That, of course, may mean denying ourselves, which means putting others first and ourselves second or even third. Like forgiving AND forgetting ….it is one of the hardest things to do. But with God, all things are possible. And in this we KNOW God is with us and for us.
Perhaps at the very end of time a very elaborate puzzle will come together made of the billions of individual crosses borne by people over all time. And when they are finally put together, they will form one giant cross that bridges earth to heaven and thereupon we shall all pass. And that is why each is so important. That is why each plays a part in the whole…
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake… will save it.”
Save your life – Save others – Take up your Cross.
It is what God asks.