Today’s Gospel: Matthew 16:24-28
When I opened up my New American Bible to read today’s Gospel, I was struck by the headline of this particular section. It read, “The Conditions of Discipleship.”
Condition. As in premise, prerequisite, qualification.
Condition. As in something essential.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples, including all of us, what is required, what is essential to be a disciple.
And what is the condition of being a disciple, according to Jesus?
“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 find it” (24-25).
Jesus doesn’t mince words, does He? He gives specific, tough instructions that call all of us to join Him in Heaven’s glory. But first we must give up everything. First we need to accept the crosses, the sufferings of our lives.
And even though we know these words are not easy to accept, we also know of Jesus’ immense love for us. He is the first to deny himself and carry His own cross all the way to Calvary, all the way for us.
When it comes to suffering, we can be fearful of the pain, of the discomfort, of what we will lose. We may even try to escape it. But really, it is an unavoidable part of the human condition. All of us will suffer, great or small, at some point in our lives. The point of Jesus’ teaching here is how we will respond to that suffering. Will we avoid it, deny it, run from it? Or will we accept it, embrace it and unite it to Christ in his suffering?Reflecting on this Gospel reminded me of some good advice on suffering that I received in the book Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley. When it comes to our approach to suffering, Fr. Gaitley proposes “that we first ask Jesus to choose for us the suffering that he knows will form us into saints (for he knows best) and then simply accept what he sends … Jesus is amazingly gentle. He knows what we can take and what we need” (p. 69). He goes on to say that “divinely chosen crosses are just the right ones: not too heavy and not too light. If we keep this in mind, it’ll be easier to accept them with praise and thanksgiving” (p. 97).
St. Therese of Liseux once said, “Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude. Has he now said, ‘… Offer to God the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving’?”
Jesus loves us so much! He calls us friends and wants us to share in His eternal glory in Heaven. His love is so all-encompassing that, yes, He also invites us to share in His suffering. But it’s not really the suffering that He is focusing on. What He’s longing for is our love.
“[Jesus} asks that we go to him, be with him in his Passion, and joyfully accept (and offer in union with his Passion) the relatively little crosses he allows us to carry” (p. 99).
This love is what it takes to be a disciple. It’s not easy. But when we remain close to Jesus, what seems scary and impossible is made easy and light (Matthew 11:30).
Do you find this teaching of “taking up your cross” difficult? If yes, does it help to unite your cross with Jesus’ passion? If not, how have you learned to embrace your crosses in life?
Dear Lord, we know that when You uttered the words “I thirst” from the cross, You didn’t just mean You were thirsty for a drink of water. You meant that You were thirsty for us. Help us to trust You with the crosses You divinely choose for us. Help us to embrace them with praise and thanksgiving, and do our best to unite our sufferings with Your passion. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Sarah Damm