Why the Cross?

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – June 28, 2020

St. Mary – Derby, KS

2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a; Psalm 89:2-3, 16-19; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42

There is so much that could be said about this Gospel today. Like I mentioned last week, this tenth chapter of Matthew is Jesus speaking to the disciples about what it means to be his disciples. And so really, Jesus is speaking directly to each one of us. These are words that we should meditate on intensely.

And we should meditate on them by pretending we have never heard them before. These sayings are so famous, “Take up your cross and follow me,” “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” and so on. We hear them, and then we move on. When phrases and sayings become too familiar, we don’t even hear them anymore. But what if we heard them as if for the first time and took them seriously?

(1)

Let’s have a moment of honesty. When we hear, “take up your cross,” what do we think? Usually it’s this weird stoicism: accept suffering. When we hear, “take up your cross,” “lose your life,” we think, “we should try to imitate Jesus’s life”—very abstract and vague. Or we hear these things and think it’s just some sort of moralizing: follow these rules because we have to. And it’s not that any of these things we think are completely wrong, they’re just not helpful. In fact, they can be profoundly unhelpful. Why? Because they factor Jesus right out of the equation.

Any good counselor or psychologist will help you understand that we have to accept suffering. They’ll help you understand how living a good life (like Jesus) will help you. They’ll even help you to understand there are certain rules and morals in life that we shouldn’t break, because breaking them will only hurt us. Any good psychologist can tell you that: life is suffering, and the sooner we come to terms with that, the better. You don’t need faith or Jesus or faith in Jesus for that.

And this is what critics of us will say. They look at us, listen to what we say, and say, “That’s nice. But I don’t need to go to church for any of that.” Or what’s worse, they look at how we live our life, and say, “I don’t need to go to church for any of that.” Your children say, “I don’t need church for any of that.” When we reduce our faith to being nice, or reduce our faith to something you can read in a self-help book—it’s not other people’s fault that they don’t see the value in the Faith. It’s ours.

We factor Jesus out of the equation, because more often than not we have not yet embodied these few verses we heard in our Gospel today.

(2)

Listen to those words of Jesus again:

“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:38-39).

It’s not just “take up your cross.” It’s “whoever does not take up their cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Taking up our cross is a condition of discipleship. Jesus has constantly been trying to form his disciples to detach themselves from all of their own projects and relationships and plans for their life. Why? Because Jesus wants to kill all of our fun? No. Because he is trying to let them participate in his own life!

What do teenagers spend a large amount of time doing on their phone each day? Watching the lives of others, wishing they could have that life. Hours scrolling through Instagram wishing they had the clothes of that person, the eyebrows of that one, that car, that watch, that house, that vacation. They spend hours watching other people play video games, wishing they could play like that, make that kind of money. What do they want? They want to participate in that lifestyle! They want to participate in that life. Maybe you do something similar in your life.

But what do you tell your kids? When your kid wants a nice car and fancy clothes and on and on—what do you tell them? “You need to work hard.” What does “work hard” translate to in Biblical language? Sacrifice. Suffering. You know how much suffering and sacrifice it takes to give them the little they already have.

But what do they tell you in return? “I don’t really want to work hard. I just want to win the lottery or go viral and get rich and famous quick.” Great. But what happens to those kinds of people? You’re older and wiser than your kids, you have read the news. What happens to people who win the lottery, celebrities? Nothing good. Their lives fall apart. Those who center their life completely on themselves, who “find their life” end up losing it. Or even if their life goes decently well (which is becoming more and more clear, they suffer just like everyone else)—even if things seem to go well, they still die just like everyone else.

Jesus isn’t trying to give us good advice. He isn’t trying to get us to detach ourselves from all of our own projects and relationships and plans for our life because he’s a huge killjoy, no. He is inviting us to participate in his life. Jesus wants us to become God. He is inviting us into the life of God himself. That’s what the Church fathers all tell us, “God became man so that man might become God.” Jesus came to allow us the ability to become God. Tell your kids that.

(3)

Because what we’re doing here is not “allowing Jesus into our life.” No! Jesus is inviting us into his life!

Just like at the beginning of this chapter he called each disciple by name, he calls each one of us by name. In the depth of your being, in your heart, Jesus calls you by name, asking if you would take up your cross and follow him, if you would set your life and your plans for your life aside and follow him. Why? Because he wants us to share the life of God, the life of crazy joy, happiness, fulfillment, and love that is the life of God.

On the day of my ordination, I drove to the church with another guy about to be ordained. And we were listening to music, trying to prepare for that moment when we would we called by name, when we would publicly embrace the cross of Christ, when we would “lose our life.” And the last song we listened to was called the “Swimming Song.” It’s just a song about going swimming during the summer. But the reason we listened to it is because we knew that we just had to dive in, jump in. Even though we could give plenty of reasons not to embrace the cross, we took Jesus at his word. We took him at his word that those who take the plunge, who listen and respond to his call by name, who embrace the cross, who lose their life for him—they receive the hundred-fold here and now, and life eternal; they are the ones who share the life of God.

Our one true hope is the cross. This is the path Jesus took to the Resurrection and the glory of eternal life. The question isn’t “Why do I have to take up a cross?” The question is, “Why wouldn’t I?”

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