Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. . .If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person. . .”
Mark 8:34, 38
Jesus isn’t much of a salesman. The way he chose and asks us to choose is outrageous by the standards of our culture. We want the crown but not the cross. We want to be accepted by society and still call ourselves disciples of Jesus. How much does the Church even encourage us to live against the grain of our society, which is certainly as “adulterous and sinful” as Jesus’ society, if not more? So why does Jesus challenge us with these words about rejection and suffering and losing one’s life? Why is living any other way characterized as selfish?
Frankly, I’m not sure how I can be who Jesus challenges me to be as long as I have possessions, power and prestige (Richard Rohr calls these the 3 P’s). As long as I have any of these I don’t really need to rely on God. How can I say I trust God to provide when I have the influence and the financial wherewithal to provide for myself? I can say I know it all comes from God as a gift, but do I really believe that? Does my attitude support that belief?
Pictures of the recent tornado outbreak bring home to me afresh that all this stuff I have is just temporary and can be gone in an instant. It won’t protect me or save me or even bring me happiness without effort. It all possesses me and makes demands of me and burdens me. Carrying these burdens prevents me from being able to carry the cross that Jesus offers me.
It seems to me that we excuse and deny the depth of this challenge given by Jesus. As much as we want to be dualistic in our thinking about who’s saved and who isn’t, who’s right and who’s wrong, we want to view this challenge of Jesus as a both/and proposition: carry our stuff and carry his cross, save our selfish ways and be saved, please ourselves and society and please God. How badly we have missed the mark! Lord, help us, help me to change!