In the Gospel today Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” It is entirely human to prefer the easy yoke and the light burden over the difficult and onerous burden of the cross. However, ultimately the cross is unavoidable in everyone’s life. Whether it is an illness, a tough family relationship, job loss or the loss of someone you love. We all have our own crosses to bear, sometimes different than our neighbors, but crosses nonetheless. The lesson for us today might be that amidst the struggles, the tragic irony, and the unattractive choices we must find our way back to trust and hope in our God.
Recently, I had some health concerns and I was amazed by the body’s ability to work toward healing itself. When one part of a person’s body is injured or in trouble, the rest of the body switches its resources to begin to heal the part of the body that is in trouble. I began thinking of our life as a Church, as a people of God. When one person in our body is hurting, we need to divert our own resources as a church body to help the one who is in need of healing. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is talking about a cross of love. To “take up the cross of love” might mean to share in the duties of Jesus himself: to preach the good news, to attend to the poor and the sick, and to show hospitality to those who do not feel welcome at our table.
We all have our own crosses to bear,
sometimes different than our neighbors,
but crosses nonetheless.
As we reflect on justice and the desire for social balance in our world, we are taking up the cross of love. Jesus spoke mostly to the poor and oppressed and so much of what Jesus said was to encourage them to look inward for their wealth. The Roman soldiers could take their food, their land, even their lives, but their “kingdom” could not be taken unless it was willingly handed over. Their greatest hope existed in their ability to care for and support one another, show compassion to all creatures, and release worrying about how they would survive. Jesus talks about an attitude towards life — a state of heart that has the courage to live in “Divine mystery.” Jesus says the kingdom of God is within us…. and this kingdom offers us the courage to trust in a future that is promised, but perhaps is not yet at hand. Jesus’ invitation to “follow me” is a personal one. Jesus says share my life and my choices, and stake your life for love of God and for neighbor together with me. Our God is personal. She is found in the God we know. If we know rage, God might look vengeful. If we know fear, God might appear to lack covenant and cause us to make decisions that lack courage. But if the God we know evokes a deep sense of conscience; She might call us to offer love and compassion in the name of another.
What gave the Prophets and Jesus authority in ministry was their compassionate reception and message to the suffering people they encountered on their journey. Our story is a Resurrection story that invites God’s people to petition God again and again into an obligatory covenant and a rising care of her people. A Covenant and a Resurrection story that invites a church that is yet to be, which presides in the holiness of an ordinary life and the acknowledgment of God’s Spirit of compassion at work among us yesterday today and always.
Bernadette Moore Gibson is Director of Pastoral Care at Old St. Patrick’s Church