Saturday, September 15, 2012


Jesus Comes Complete With a Cross
(Twelve apostles, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene 
sold separately. Batteries not included. 
Some assembly required).

The readings are James 2:14-18 and Mark  8:27-35

The Power of the Cross

Several years ago someone told me that he didn’t like Jesus all that much because He was “demanding, almost scary.” He continued, “If I say Jesus is Lord, then that means I would have to believe it, and believe in Him, and then live like I believed in it. In Him.  And that would be a cross to bear.”

What an astute observation.

Today, Jesus takes his disciples north of Galilee to an out of the way place where he asks them the question of the gospel:“Who do you say that I am?” 

The disciples likely looked down to inspect their sandals. 

But Peter declares: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”

In a flash of brilliance, Peter answers correctly. But Jesus insists he tell no one.

Why? Because the disciples had no clue as to what the REAL messiah was about.

When Jesus states that the messiah must suffer, Peter rebukes Jesus, and takes him aside.

Peter, who got an A on his pop quiz in Christology opens his mouth again and gets an F in Soteriology.

I imagine Peter said: “Jesus, you’re the Christ, the Messiah, and you’ll be famous! We’ll all be famous! You can be dancing with the stars of David, and with your Voice and Talent, you’ll become “Israel’s Idol!” C’mon, you’re consubstantial with the Father.

And let’s be honest, Jesus. Take up the sword; you’ll become the ultimate Galilean Ninja Warrior and show the Romans who’s in charge.

Why drag around an ugly cross? I say, avoid this cross business or else they might come for me too. I’m allergic to crosses, splinters, spikes, nails…the whole thing. No thanks. No messiah of mine will ever die on a humiliating Roman Cross.”

Peter doesn’t get it. Peter loves Jesus, this is true, but he was afraid – not merely for Jesus, but for himself as well. And in his fear, Peter takes up where the devil left off tempting Jesus to avoid the Cross. Instead, Peter wants Jesus to follow him.

Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me.” Your place is to follow me, not lead me. Do not attempt to redefine who I am.”

Jesus Messiah would not be the warrior messiah riding into Jerusalem upon a white steed leading an army of Jewish Patriots, with their swords, slingshots and daggers ready to force the hand of God with violence.

Jesus the Christ would not rout the Romans by showing no mercy, smashing heads far and wide, annihilating them in an apocalyptic blood-bath! 

So before Jesus would turn his disciples loose with the good news that He was the Messiah, he had to show them exactly who and what the messiah was.

Jesus teaches by example: “Peter, it’s not about possessions, popularity, pleasure or power. It’s about a passion for service. It’s about washing feet. It's about being broken and shared so that others might live. It’s about love. 

It’s about dying to that “oh, so important thing we call ‘Self’.”

But Peter is still caught up in the nets of his own world, clutching to the familiar; he's fishing for meaning in the wrong waters; he is fearful and unwilling to embrace the cross. Peter just can’t quite surrender his sword and himself, abandoning himself to the love of God and trust the Christ that Jesus is.

Yes, Jesus was the Messiah, but not the messiah Peter wanted or what the people expected.

Peter has a lot of learning to do. All of us do.

You know, there is nothing in the gospel that praises a safe or cozy life.

The very essence of life involves risk and spending ourselves for others; not by trying to hoard life. “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.” Jesus calls us to let go of our attachments, our wants and our fears, emptying ourselves so that Christ can fill us.

And the choice for Christ involves more than getting the correct answer on a quiz, or crying out “Lord, Lord,” or “Getting saved.” It may be a start, but it’s only the beginning of faith.

It seems that Peter wanted all the benefits of Faith and to have Christ as his personal Messiah, but without the cross and denying himself.

You see, Peter had faith, and could call Jesus “Lord” and “Christ,” but the Cross. Yes, the Cross. Let’s admit it, Saint James was right when he said it was too easy to dismiss the needy with the words, “Go in peace, keep warm, and well fed.”

We can choose to hold on to our lives, but we know that until we let go of whatever we clutch at so possessively, and embrace the cross, we will never be able to lift the burdens of our brothers and sisters, whoever and wherever they may be!

Dying to self.

Taking up the cross.

It’s a difficult business.

But we will rise to new life when we do it.

Christ will lift us up with His divine power so that we can transform people’s lives.

So, what does dying to self look like?

It might be assisting a loved one who has become chemically dependent or suffering from an addiction.

Or as mundane as taking that grumpy neighbor to the grocery store because no one else will.

It’s chauffeuring the kids around on the weekend when you would rather be at home watching the game or be out on the town with your beloved.

That’s when we deny ourselves.

It might be the devoted wife whose husband’s mind is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, yet she remains faithful to him, and even though he may no longer recall who she is, she knows who he is. She cares for him, tying a bib around his neck, feeding him like a baby, even changing his adult diapers].

Or what of the long-time companion who becomes caregiver to his or her beloved who has suffered a stroke or is suffering from Parkinson’s disease?

There’s the adult child who is now parenting a parent, massaging his mother’s cold feet due to poor circulation and neuropathy.

That’s when we deny ourselves.

It can be the loving example of the parents who care for a child with a Down’s syndrome, autism, leukemia or with a learning or physical disability.

*Then again it could be like when my cousin developed breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy. When she lost all of her hair, her husband shaved his head in solidarity with her. 

After a few years of remission her cancer returned and he remained faithful, fulfilling his vows, feeding her, emptying her bedpan, and remaining close by her side as she declined and grew thin and gaunt, no longer the beautiful bride he had married, and no longer capable of being the wife and mother that she had been, though he still saw her as his lovely bride and mother to their children….even as she breathed her last, he loved her as Christ loved us…to the death.

That’s when we deny ourselves.

We can think of many other examples of where we have to die to ourselves and love another.

And that love is time and again an ugly splintery cross, one that is often unwelcome, awkward, and heavy, and our self-denial is very, very real.

These are the crosses we bear.

This is what it means to deny ourselves.

This is discipleship.

When we can let go and live lives of service to Christ and one another, we begin to live….

And in doing so, we will rise again to eternal life – if we would but take up our Cross.

“Take courage,” (in the words of St. Mother Theodora Guerin), “the Cross awaits us at every turn, but it is the way to heaven.”

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