First Reading: Isaiah 50:4c-9a (131B)
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Second Reading: James 2:14-18
Gospel Reading: Mark 8:27-35
First off, my deepest apologies for having been away for the last two weeks. My scehdule at work and at parish has been "through-the-wall" busy. Everything is starting up once again - school, academics, programs, music rehearsals - you name it - and it is happening!
A number of years ago, I was teaching a course on the synoptic Gospels, Mark being one of them. When we got to the midpoint of chapter eight, I was curious to know what the students thought about what it means to "take up our own cross." One of my students raised her hand. She declared this to be the most dangerous text in the bible and wished we could rip it out. She went on to describe how a majority of women and children had internalized this text in a way that they though that be enduring every kind of suffering, including physical and verbal abuse from their batterers, they were "faithfully" carrying their corss with Jesus. I was appaled at such a misunderstanding of the meaning of "taking up the cross." However, my dear friends, we are living in a time when the understanding of scripture isn't taking place in an academic and theological/spiritual way. More and more denominations in our country are using scripture to oppress people. I soon discovered that my student's experience was replicated in vast numbers in most every corner of the room.
While such a spirituality of the cross had enabled many women to endure great suffering and to give meaning to it, Jesus' invitation to take up one's cross actually refers to a very different kind of suffering. He is speaking to his disciples about the suffering that is likely to befall a person for being his follower - and don't many of us know that type of suffering? I certainly do. At the current moment, I am the only practicing Roman Catholic in my family, and for lack of a better term, I have "taken a beating" for that. The cross that Jesus speaks of today might be the cross of lonliness that we might experience - when we have no one else around to speak of God's Word with, or share in our faith experiences or journey's. Illness or disease is not "the cross" in the sense in which Jesus speaks of it in today's gospel. There is nothing particularly Christian about this kind of suffering; it can happen to anyone. Nor is suffering that comes from abuse of injustice something that one should "take up." Jesus confronted and tried to stop that kind of suffering whenever he encountered it. The cross consists rather in the negative consequences to which Jesus' followers willingly expose themselves as the cost of being his disciples.
Hand in hand with taking up the cross is the denial of self. This does not refer to ascetic acts, like giving up something you enjoy during Lent. Such practices can feed a spirituality of denial of self; but when Jesus enjoins denial of self, he speaks of a spirituality by which one chooses daily to place the common good and Christ at the center, not one's own desires. It is a free choice to live a life of ever-deepending self-surrender to love.
The second reading today gives some concrete examples of this kind of costly love. If sone encounters a brother or sister without adequate clothing or food or shelter, to deny oneself and take up the corss deamnds letting go of time and resources in self surrender to the neediest ones. Simply talking about faith but not making it visible in concrete deeds of self-surrender is not authentic discipleship. Trying to skirt the cost of such love, as Peter did when he insisted to Jesus that the cross was not neccesary at all, is an all-too-human way of thinking. To think as God does results in godly action, a lifelong surrender to a free and costly love.
1. What is the cost for you as you choose to follow Jesus more closely?
2. How does denial of self take form in your life?