When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." And He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power."
- Mark 8:34-9:1
Yesterday, we read that Jesus came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, "I see men like trees, walking." Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, "Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town." Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, "Who do men say that I am?" So they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ." Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." While the cross was a dreaded instrument of Roman punishment, says my study bible, it's also a symbol of suffering by Christians in imitation of Christ. Self-denial is for the sake of the love of God and the gospel. This is the opposite of "punishment," something one must grasp in the love of Christ and in grace. It's not an end in itself but rather a means to overcome and to transcend a world fallen away from communion with God for the sake of the Kingdom. The cross becomes an exchange of one way of thinking and being for another, a way of deliverance. Galatians 5:4 speaks of "crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires."
"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." My study bible says here that the central paradox of Christian living is that in grasping for temporal things, we lose the eternal. But in the sacrifice of what is "worldly," we gain eternal riches that are unimaginable (1 Corinthians 2:9).
And He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." The following reading is of the Transfiguration, which we will read about tomorrow: this is a direct reference to the apostles who will witness it -- and also to those in each generation who will experience the presence of God's kingdom, says my study bible.
What does the Cross mean to us? How do we associate our own crosses with the Cross of Christ? We know that the Cross gives us sacrifice, but for what, for what reason? This is a hard question to answer, except in retrospect, in knowing of the Resurrection. Jesus will say, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13 NKJV). The image of the Cross is about sacrifice for the sake of love. One example from every day life would be the things one sacrifices for those whom he or she loves: a child endangered, for example, would produce immediate self-endangerment from a parent trying to save them. This is sacrifice for love. Caring for others whom we love involves a degree of self-sacrifice, for example, in caring for parents who are aging and infirm. Love is a kind of exchange, in which our own self-interest is seen as limited, and we're opened up to a bigger kind of opening and experience, a bigger view on life, for things that transcend the "temporal." But when we put our lives in God's hands, a much greater and bigger picture takes shape. Christ is the One who's gone before us, and set the real example for heroic self-sacrifice for the sake of love and the "bigger picture." He teaches us the example of what it is to lose one's life in order to save it, the Resurrection teaches us of a Kingdom into which we're each invited, into which He wishes to take each one of us -- and maybe more importantly, which must dwell here and now in this world with us, and imbue our own understanding of life with its values and meanings. That's a much greater reality, an exchange in which we give up our own limited understanding of life for the beauty of Christ's way. All of this is tied to faith and to the experience of faith. Through prayer, we will know moments when we're called to sacrifice something we might want or think we know for something quite different, that brings us into a greater picture. We might lose one job we think we want in exchange for something unplanned. We'll find that helping someone who's treated us poorly brings us a grace that is unsurpassable, a sense of ourselves and the great goodness of which we're capable, the strength that comes from God's grace we didn't know we were capable of having. All of life is about a giant exchange in the point of view of Christ: one life for another, one world for another that is endowed with the life of the Kingdom, one self-interest for an expanded understanding of love, life as competition for life as endowed with grace. This is where we go, what He puts us through. It's all for a reason, an exchange, a kind of growth so far outside of our own box it feels like the Cross while we're working through it and in it. Faith is the trust that we put in Him, to follow Him. It's the trust He teaches to place in the Father and the Spirit. It's the reality of understanding a kind of heroism that gives us the true nature of what that really means. It makes us realize the lie in selfishness, the false front that life is what we appear to have and not what we truly own as persons in our souls. We give up one way, for His Way. Where is our loyalty? Whom do we trust most? What leads us from chaos to the values that give us a truly "civilized" life? Faith is the acceptance that what we seem to be called by God to sacrifice in our lives is leading us to a greater place God calls us to, something fuller, deeper, what it means to have "life in abundance." We follow in the footsteps of countless others, but the experience belongs to us each in our own way, with our own crosses. We know the love of God for us; where we're called, we're called by love.