March 14 Luke 9:21-27
I have to admit that these words of Jesus are hard to hear with my 21st-Century ears. I don’t quite get it.
Take a look at all the verbs. Jesus says he must “suffer…be rejected…be killed…be raised.” Then he says any who follow him must “deny himself…take up his cross daily…follow me.”
It’s hard to reconcile these words to the messages of our modern day Oprah-esque psycho-babble: Give yourself the oxygen mask first! If mom doesn’t take care of herself and love herself first, how can she properly love and care for the family? Hmmm…. For me, this passage raises enigmatic questions that often go unanswered, and maybe that is precisely the point. Maybe this is indeed the challenge: balancing life between focus on self and focus on others, between the narrow focus of one’s own life within the context of the needs of the larger world and the greater good.
As a person who grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, I struggle with these questions all the time. Somehow we are taught, especially in the small-town, fish bowl environment of the deep South, always to consider others first, or at least how everything looks to others—even at the expense of self, or maybe especially at the expense of oneself.
But maybe if we look more deeply into this passage and look to Jesus himself the lesson becomes clearer. Jesus knew exactly who he was: in the preceding verses of the passage, his disciples name him as “The Christ of God,” and as such he knows his coming fate. This deep knowledge of himself equipped him to live out his mission as Messiah, God-with-us, willing to face the ultimate sacrifice that was about to be asked of him.
How do we model ourselves after Jesus? How do we absorb such information and synthesize it for our use? Maybe we too can ask ourselves “Who do you say that I am?,” addressing this question to self and using it as a tool to examine our relationship with God through Jesus Christ—becoming clear about who I am, clear about who I understand God to be, and clear about the relationship we share through Christ.
Perhaps only in answering these questions first can we be equipped to live in a new context, with a new perspective—equipped to take up our individual crosses daily, whatever they are, to follow Christ, and to live unashamed in our faith. Perhaps the greatest blessings come as part of that ongoing process: losing one’s life in the living of life in Christ, and within that losing, finding it all over again, only to discover that we have even more to share as the cycle continues.
Son of God, Creator of all, Holy Spirit: Flow through us, allow us to know you and to know ourselves more deeply and more truthfully. Equip us to live boldly, defiantly, in the ways taught to us by Jesus Christ. Amen.