Until this point the word “Christ” or “Messiah” was packed with multiple meanings for the Jewish people. It carried memories of kings like David and Solomon. It held the promise of splendour, military victory, hope of national revival and restoration of Israel’s former glory.
So, it’s a profound and dramatic moment in the Gospel for the Apostles when Jesus begins to teach them that the Messiah would have to suffer, die and then rise.
The joining of the Messiah with suffering didn’t compute for most Jewish people. The Apostles may not have even heard the word ‘rise’ but certainly heard ‘suffering’ and ‘death’.
Jesus tells them that this is the way Redemption will take place. Jesus will embrace the cross. The road to rising will be through dying. Then comes a further teaching for the Apostles and for us when Jesus says that those wishing to follow Him to eternal life must take up their cross and follow. Some very important implications follow from these words.
The first is that everyone has a cross, Christians, non-Christians, athletes, professionals, the wealthy, the impoverished, celebrities, and people of every age. Sometimes we imagine celebrities to be immune from the cross. When we read that a particular entertainer has cancer, we are surprised. We imagine that the image that is projected in their profession is all there is to their life.
Everyone has a cross. It is not a Christian invention. We should try to alleviate suffering as best we can. There is however, that residual suffering about which we can do nothing. That is the cross a person must carry.
Maybe there is a planet where accidents do not occur, where people do not have cancer or serious illnesses, where violence does not plague the cities, where all human life is respected, where people are honest and transparent, where Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases are unknown. Maybe such a place exists in this universe, but that is not where we live. That is not the world in which we were baptised. We are called to follow Christ in this world with the cross we have.
The second point is that we follow Christ by taking up our cross as opposed to pretending it is not there or finding ways to avoid it or curse it. The cross we have in our life is the unique way that we will follow Christ. It is our personal connection to Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus but the cross we have traces the specific path by which we will do that.
The cross keeps us real. Just as faith without works is dead, as St James says in today’s second reading, so following Christ without our cross is illusory. The cross in our life cleanses and clarifies our discipleship.
Is this kind of discipleship that Jesus describes heroic? Yes! Is it rare? No! We see it everyday in the fidelity of marriage, in the faithfulness of priests and religious, in the care given to ailing
and failing parents, in the love and attention given to sick children, in the hours donated to charitable causes, in the time spent in hospitals as a loved one recovers, in the comfort and help given to people after a death, in the struggle to endure a job one doesn’t like in order to support a family. These and so many more situations show us the real way of how we – You and I can follow Christ in 2021. They show the grace and power of Christ at work around us and in us.
Permit me to recap. Everyone on earth has a cross. About that we have no choice.
The cross can make us bitter or it can make us a saint. That choice is ours. If we follow the Lord with it, the cross we have in our life becomes the path that leads to holiness here and eternal glory with Christ. Fr Andrew