1. If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it. You know, you sometimes suspect that it was just as well Jesus was a full-time priest, because, at first glance, he would have been pretty hopeless at marketing. I mean, who goes – Hooray! Free cross with every baptism? And its true isn’t it: Jesus was so popular that they made it clear what they thought of his message: they crucified him. As Jesus reminds us today: The Son of Man’ he said ‘is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death. But what’s amazing is he knew! He knew that when he offered us freedom and happiness, we would react by punching him in the face – and spitting at it, and asphyxiating him on the cross. He knew! But…he loved us.
2. Some people would argue, if he knew the consequences, its his own fault. The thing is – that’s bullying. That’s what happened to him: he was bullied. Fit your views in with what we believe, or we, who are bigger and more powerful than you, will kill you. Now what’s interesting is Jesus’ reaction. He doesn’t react saying Oh: you don’t like my teachings on my divinity or the need to repent or sexuality or forgiveness. I’d better change them right away. What does he say? In the Alleluia verse – I am the light of the world, says the Lord; anyone who follows me will have the light of life. In the Gospel: anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.’ And in the first reading: They will look on the one whom they have pierced…When that day comes, a fountain will be opened for the House of David. Those who change their beliefs to fit in with Jesus are filled with life, in this life and the next.
3. Its also a reminder that we shouldn’t be surprised when we find being Christian is not always easy. Life does not suddenly become easy. As Christians we can all have that experience of unfairness. I believe in God. I go to mass. I give money to the Church. So how come God doesn’t do what I want?
Part of the answer we saw in our second point: Christianity is about fitting in with Jesus’ plans – not only because he’s Mr Boss Man, but because anything that is good or true in what we desire is found in him, who is the Truth – the creator of all being. But that is not all Jesus has to say on the matter. He himself expresses that unfairness today: O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. This is Jesus own experience on the cross: to suffer grievously.
We hear lots of advice about how to deal with suffering: Offer it up is the most common one. Jesus offers a novel suggestion today: are you suffering? Praise God for that. Let me be clear: Jesus is not saying we stay in a situation where we are continually being hurt physically or psychologically. But he is saying, especially in cases of personal suffering, that one thing we can do is to praise him for that. For example: we have heard how the psalmist’s body pines in suffering like a dry, weary land without water. So what does he do? He turns his gaze to God – to see your strength and your glory – and praises God for his suffering. So I will bless you all my life, in your name I will lift up my hands. It sounds crazy: but what happens to him? My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my mouth shall praise you with joy. This is something we can do too: to praise God for my suffering. Thankyou God for this suffering. I praise you for this small share you allow me in yours. I praise you for this opportunity to grow my heart and strength. I praise you because I am not also suffering in other part of my body – that I can still taste, and walk around, and see. As with the psalmist, we discover a deep, mature and powerful joy – powerful because, even though we have some suffering, that joy is unaffected by it. In other words: we become truly free.