Jesus gives four commandments in tomorrow’s gospel: “Get behind me,” and “If anyone wants to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” [I have modified them from a strict translation to make the point.] Take away the Satan bit for a second. I am all for it, and think there is much to learn there, but right now Jesus is making a point, let’s follow him.
Get behind me. How often do we get out in front of God or Jesus, deciding what we know God should do: for us with us and for the world and other people? How do we get behind Jesus? You can’t follow someone you are leading. This is Discipleship 101. Get behind Jesus and listen to him. Follow his teachings and follow his directions. Seems like that would be pretty much what being a disciple is, but we don’t always do that. I once heard a priest say that Jesus didn’t want him to give up his Mercedes. It was a foolish comment in a sermon, meant in jest I hoped, yet over the next three years, he lost everything and became a much better priest and human being. He got behind Jesus.
Take up your cross. What is your cross? We often allegorize this saying to death. We translate it to mean that our cross is our little brother Timmy or weight gain or bad credit or cancer. Jesus does not mean any of this. You may have to go through it, but it isn’t what he seems to mean here. Get behind him, again.
What has he told us to do? Love our neighbor. Love our enemies. Serve our brothers and sisters. Love knowing we won’t get loved back. Love knowing the cost. Forgive others. We are to take up the cross of salvation, the world’s salvation. We are to suffer and even be willing to die for other people and the sake of the world. That is taking up the cross. To be a full human being is to suffer and to die. And being a human being is what literally being a Son of Humanity means.
Embrace the Suck. This little phrase, that I have written about on this blog, is really key here. To do anything great, you have to embrace the work that is required. So many of us want to be Christian, a Jesus follower, a good person, but we don’t want to face the work that requires. Jesus saves us by grace. He died for us before we even knew what was going on, while we were still sinners, as Paul says. But we are called now into his new covenant to be his body and to be the bearers of the Holy Spirit like Jesus replaced the temple. We are to be the people of his forgiveness, grace, and healing. And that sucks. Really it does. Yes, his yoke is easier than the nitpicky rules and death-dealing score-keeping of religion. But it is also a much more tremendous demand of our very selves.
Deny yourself. How do you define your self? I am a lot of things, none of which is me, and yet all of which are somewhat me. I have this persona, these hobbies, this sweater, this watch, these kids, this church, this wife, this cool reclaimed English hardwood table, and a rich devotional life, an old Bible. Whatever we define ourselves by, we have to deny. In Jesus’ day your self was your social and familial identities. Deny those. These days we are more shallow. Deny all that. Give away the watch, paint the table, and define your self first and foremost as God’s child. Start in prayer and remembrance. Find some places in your life to give things up and learn how to pray with open hands. Lent is a good time for this.
Embrace the call of the radical love and discipline it demands, and follow Jesus. We know where that road leads, and I am a little bit terrified. But it is also my hope and my purpose, my very salvation. Because like Abraham, I trust that God will provide and care for me along the way. I know the way will be hard, but it will ultimately be the very road to life and the New Jerusalem, the city of God, where we will see the day finally break and everyone bowing before the One who made us, loved us, and wanted us home so much that he came to find us, and sent us out to bring others to the feast.
Pretty amazing stuff! I mean, we are a part of what God is doing in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like he was, to save the world. So embrace the suck, it is worth it.