Convenient Christianity – Friday, Memorial of St Clare- Matthew 16:24-28
Much of Christianity today, has been reduced to familiar and comforting Biblical verses. We seek verses in scripture that give us consolation rather than challenge us. It is wonderfully comforting to repeat Philippians 4:13 which says, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” or John 3:16,” God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Now imagine for a minute a Christian taking up today’s Biblical verse, “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them DENY THEMSELVES, TAKE UP THEIR CROSS and follow me.”
Our text of today needs a bit of context. Christ has offended the Pharisees and scribes who have come from Jerusalem to question him. (15:1) He then willfully strayed into ‘enemy territory,’ into the land of Phonecia, where he praised the ‘great faith of a foreigner (15:28). He fed the four thousand and when ‘tested’ by the Pharisees and Sadducees called them an “evil and adulterous generation.”(16:4) and warns the disciples against the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (16:6) He then reveals himself at Caesaria Philippi as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (15:16)
From now on Jesus will begin his journey to Jerusalem. Mathew 16:2 tells us that “from that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he MUST go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead.” But this truth was hard for Peter and perhaps the rest to accept. Peter attempts to dissuade the Lord and as a consequence faces his ire. To his shock, he is called satan for he has become a stumbling block with his mind set on human things.
It is in this context that Matthew 16:24 must be read. Jesus is heading to HIS cross but if we are to be his followers then the implication is clear as daylight. Yet we live in the shadows, unaccepting of the truth of Matthew 16:24.
It must be said and said emphatically; no one demands that we have to be followers of Christ. Baptism does welcome us into the fraternity of Christ but even satan chose to opt out of heaven. Don’t misunderstand my point; what I am stating is that a follower of Christ makes a choice. Jesus is clear, “IF any want to be my followers.” Following Christ is a free choice but if you accept it you must embrace the whole package. Too often, Christians have their basket of cherry-picked teachings of Christ. Such Christians must be called out for they are nothing but the agents of satan, who like their master ‘deceive’ others into their brand of convenient Christianity.
Discipleship demands the acceptance of the cross. The cross demands the denial of self. We live in a culture of ME, MYSELF and I and this unholy trinity is fed to us as the need for assertiveness. It is not assertiveness when we push others out of the way to insert ourselves. This is not assertiveness, it is aggressiveness; diabolically marketed by the world as a trade and tool of self-growth. The Christian is called to denial.
Discipleship demands the cross. The cross interestingly is not given or dumped on us. Christ says, “take up your cross” and in the Gospel of Luke he says “take up THE cross.” Christ does not give us ‘a’ cross but demands we carry THE cross. There is only one ‘the cross;’ it’s the one Jesus carried. He is not asking that we carry some of our human trivialities and console ourselves that we have shared in his suffering. For the community of Matthew who read this text, the writing was on the wall; Christ was asking them to die as he died on the cross. Discipleship demanded the sacrifice of one’s own life.
For us today, taking up ‘the cross’ has been reduced to a metaphor. We don’t expect to die on a cross. There is no doubt that each of us will die someday. The point is, are we willing to die today in the same manner that Our Lord died for us? There is no profit in heaven if we have gained great earthly honours, power or position. It does not matter how important or internationally recognised your surname is. It matters little if you are the Prime Minister or the longest-serving Pope. What matters is what we have done (16:28) how we have lived and how we have loved Christ.