March 10, 2009

Taking up the Cross

            The Gospel reading for the second week in Lent begins with these words: “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Humanity must undergo great suffering…” (Mark 8:31). Peter quickly took him aside and began to rebuke him. He could not bear to hear Jesus talk so forthrightly about how he saw his messianic mission unfolding: “be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed….”  Jesus’ last words “and…rise again” were lost on him as he rushed to dissuade his master from following such a pathway.  I fear that we want to ignore the first part of Jesus’ prophecy, too. We leap to the hope of the third day, with only slight attention to the “great suffering.”

            St. Teresa of Avila wrote:

                        Let us make our way together, Lord;

                                    Wherever you go

                                    I must go;

                           and through whatever you pass;

                           there too I will pass.

            This saint of old captured the depth of Jesus’ invitation to discipleship.  Self-preservation (“saving life”) cannot be our consuming pursuit if we would follow Jesus because he goes some places we would rather avoid. Indeed, he willingly loses his life for the sake of others. How hard this is to hear!  We pursue recognition and affirmation; we want to be noticed.  We don’t want any crosses—not his, not ours.  Rowan Williams perceptively writes: “The final control and measure and irritant in Christian speech remains the cross.”

            Involuntary suffering is part of being a frail human; but, voluntary suffering is that which we undertake in service to others for his sake. Through this we shall pass as we journey with him. There will be crosses along the way.


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