THE LORD SAID to His disciples, "Everyone who confesses Me before others, I also will confess them before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before others, I also will deny them before My Father in heaven.
"Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take up the cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me."
Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for My Name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
"Whoever does not take up the cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me."
In order to understand the magnitude of this statement, we need to remind ourselves what exactly it meant to take up the cross at the times when Christ spoke these words. Our understanding of the cross today is influenced, for obvious reasons, by what Christ did with it and on it. But what went through the minds of Jesus' hearers when He was talking about taking up the cross?
Crucifixion was not just an execution in the ancient times. It was one of the most humiliating and agonizing ways to punish a person and an effective way to prevent others from doing whatever it was the crucified person was doing. The death on the cross was not only painful, it was slow, lasting sometimes days. The civil authorities, in order to make executions as public as possible, and "entertaining" (remember, there was no TV, CNN, or internet to keep the population amused), led the person to be crucified through the busy streets naked and carrying the cross beam, to which they were to be nailed.
So, when Christ was speaking of the cross, that's what His hearers imagined in their heads. And they must have asked themselves, "Is He saying that we need to, not only get utterly humiliated, but die one of the worst deaths, in order to be worthy of Him?"
Yes, that's exactly what the Lord is saying here. And we have a countless example of martyrs, both from the Old Testament and the New, who did just that. Martyrdom, however, is not the only way to become worthy of Christ. Carrying our own cross, likewise, does not always end in martyrdom. Being crucified, literally or figuratively, does not necessarily mean that we have become worthy of Christ. After all, there were two thieves crucified with Christ, but only one was saved.
To become worthy of Christ, we take up our cross and follow Him. Following Him is as important as taking up the cross. Following God means living according to His will for us.
When a person was condemned to a crucifixion, and was walking through the street naked, carrying the cross beam on his back, that person knew that he was walking to a sure death. He was, literally, a dead man walking. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. There was no miraculous pardon to expect.
Now, let's think about what else reminds us of something very similar, of a journey that ends in a certain death?
Isn't life a journey to death? Isn't everyone who is born, is born to die? From a purely physical point of view that's exactly what is going on - our life is a slow journey to death. Just like a person walking to his own crucifixion, we walk through life knowing for sure that we will die (unlike the crucified person, we don't know when).
So, in some way, the cross is the entirety of our life - all that we go through, from birth to death, is the cross. Now, with this meaning in mind, let's read Christ's words again, "Whoever does not take up the cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me." Whoever does not dedicate their life to following Christ is not worthy of Him. Our life is our cross, it is the only one we have. And we can do only one thing with it - offer it back to the Lord and follow Him. We can't save it on our own. We can't radically change it. All we can do is offer it back to the One Who gave it to us.
But, what does it mean to follow Christ? It means to do His will. And what does it mean to do the will of God? The answer to this question could take up a few reflections, but the shortest answer is provided by Christ Himself at the beginning of our reading, "Everyone who confesses Me before others, I also will confess them before My Father in heaven." Meaning, confess Christ as the only true God, confess Christ as our Redeemer, confess Christ as the One Who gives meaning to our cross, our life, and live like what we confess is not just an empty statement.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,