Readings: Is. 50:5-9; Jas. 2:14-18; Mk. 8:27-35
There is No Crown Without A Cross
1. A cross is something we would like to run away from. It represents pains, sufferings, difficulties, sadness, and loneliness. Criminals were hung on the cross to die a shameful and painful death. According to St. Paul, “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.’” (Gal. 3:13). Christ removed the curse associated with the cross and made it an object of salvation, therefore, we can say “In the cross is our salvation.” We can never go through life without experiencing some form of a cross. So, in the Gospel Jesus tells us “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
2. There is a story told of a man who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. He got a cross the same size that Christ carried and went on his way. As he went along, he felt that the cross was too heavy and so he cut off some part of it. When he came to a river too deep to cross, he had an idea. He threw the cross across the river, intending to walk on it to the other side. Unfortunately, the cross was shorter by the piece he cut off and so his journey came to an end. Christ’s warning is ad rem, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” We cannot claim to know Jesus if we run away from him. Christ did not run away from his cross, he embraced it. It was through his cross that he saved the world. As we say on Good Friday, “We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You. Because, by Your cross, You have redeemed the world.”
3. This point is very clear in today’s gospel. Christ asked his disciples who they thought he was. Was he one of the prophets like John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or Elijah? Was he just a miracle worker? A healer? A storyteller? Or just a friend and lover of the sick? Yes! He was all that and more. Peter got it right. He was the Messiah. The Anointed one. The one sent for the salvation of the world. This was all well said. But Christ had to explain to them what his mission in the world was all about. He is the suffering servant we hear about in the first reading. He will be beaten, his beard plucked and he will be spat upon. He will rely on God for protection and guidance, but he will not run away from pain and suffering. Yes, he will suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and finally he will die a shameful death as they will nail him to the cross, the object of shame and disgrace. His kingship will be different from that of the world. He will reign supreme on the Cross and by his cross he will save the world. Peter could not imagine this Messiah going through such ignominy. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Mt. 16:22) But Christ stood firm and put Peter where he belonged, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mt. 16:23). How do human beings think? Human beings think of comfort, pleasure, leisure and how to avoid pains and suffering – the cross at all costs!
4. Many of us are ready for the crown without the cross. We want the glory without work; to pass examinations with flying colors without studying. We shy away from sufferings and pains but yearn for exulted positions. Christianity is not having a life without pain and suffering; it is being prepared for both. Christ shared good times with his disciples, but he also had his share of pains, rejection, and crucifixion. Many times, people have wondered why a loving God would allow us to suffer. We wonder why the world is often plagued with sickness, hunger, viruses, and death. What is the place for suffering and the cross in the world created lovingly by God? Why should children be born without limbs. What role has fire, earthquake, landslide, tsunami, and many other natural disasters play in the world while thousands are displaced or lose their lives. Why does one religion attack and persecute another in the name of God or Allah? We may not know the answers to these questions and there are many more questions to ask. We must know that pain and suffering have their place in the world.
5. Our call to follow Christ, the suffering Messiah, demands that we be prepared to lose our life in order to get it back. Losing our life may not necessarily mean martyrdom but it means dying to ourselves, our selfishness, and our pride so that we may live for Christ. Christianity is hard work. Hence James tells us bluntly, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead!” Our faith must be alive and active. It means getting up and contributing our gifts of time, talent, and treasure to advance the kingdom of God on earth. If we want the crown of eternal life, we must not shy away from the cross of our daily life. Let us pray that the crosses we carry may not be too heavy for us. May we identify our suffering with that of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP