Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Cost of Discipleship (Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Lk. 9:22-25)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?”

* * * * * * * *

“There is no path to life except through the cross” is perhaps the best Christian translation of what Buddhists call the great noble truth: “All life is suffering”. The words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading are words that ring true for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike. There is much joy in life, but there is also much sorrow and pain. And there are many who grow faint and lose heart. Struggle is part of human existence, for whether we like it or not, life is rarely what we would like it to be.

It is against the almost disheartening backdrop that Jesus reminds us that far from being a depressing truth, the suffering of life is actually a condition for following him as a disciple. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”. Just as Jesus the Master suffered and died, so must the disciple following in his footsteps. There is no escaping suffering, there is no way to life except to the cross.

But that’s not the end of the story, not for Jesus Christ, and especially not for those who follow faithfully in his footsteps. For while the road to true discipleship cannot skip the cross, it is not on the cross that it ends, but in the resurrection. Suffering and death are not the final word in life, neither are they the final word in the life of a Christian. There may be no path to life except through the sufferings of life, but after these comes the promise of eternal life.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)