God’s grace is free but not cheap – Friday, 6th Week in ordinary time – Mark 8:34-9:1
Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes it clear; While God’s grace is always bestowed freely, it is never bestowed cheaply. Discipleship has its demands and Christ peels the layers of the onion on each of these demands, perhaps even drawing us to tears!
Jesus has shut up and shut down Peter’s ambition. Jesus was teaching his disciples on the reality of what Messiahship would entail. He described his passion, death and resurrection much to Peter’s horror who took it upon himself to remonstrate with the Master. Now Jesus had to take this teaching one step further, setting their minds not on ‘human things but on things divine’; namely the plan of God for the salvation of the world.
This teaching that Jesus gave was not to a select group of twelve. We are told that Jesus now calls the crowds with his disciples. He clearly intends this teaching for all, not just his followers. This was to be a way of life for anyone who would ever seek to follow him down the ages.
The world we live in has perfected the art of marketing. Its goal is to sell at any cost even by deception. We choose the most appealing image even though it may be unrelated to the product being sold. We pick words carefully, words that would draw in many more takers. We sensationalize, airbrush, exaggerate and promise the earth. Christ did just the opposite when he made his pitch for followers. He laid every card out on the table, spelt every consequence, highlighted the small print and then and only then, in freedom, called us to follow him. There is no bait dangled just an a free invitation but with a clear list of demands that were not tied up with paper and ribbon.
While the text of today has many beautiful reflections I would like to focus on two. The call to discipleship involves “denying yourself.” “Denying self is not the same as self-denial. We practice self-denial in the season of Lent when, for a good purpose, we give up things or activities for a period of time. But we deny self when we surrender ourselves to Christ and decided to obey His will.” Obeying his will is far more challenging than passing over an ice cream, it is passing our own ego so that Christ’s will be done. Discipleship implies a loss of identity and taking on a new corporate identity as members of Christ’s body. St Paul says, “ I now no longer live, Christ lives in me.”
Discipleship implies taking up ones cross. Sadly this very line, “taking up ones cross” has been trivialized, it has become a casual metaphor for suffering. We seem to suggest to each other that whenever a suffering comes our way we should embrace it as if it was ‘our cross.’ The crowds who heard Jesus must have gasped in horror. The cross was an instrument of shame and suffering. The Romans used it as the worst form of death and so gruesome was it that Roman citizens condemned to death would be decapitated than be crucified.
Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.