We hear a dark message from Jesus today. He is not the sweet Jesus we’ve come to know. He is brutally honest and straightforward: “I am going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. And if you would come after Me, you must take up your cross. And if you want to save your life, you must first lose it.” That is a tall order.
Jesus led a remarkable life. He spent three decades of His life, about 30 of His 33 years, where you and I would never dream of looking for Him.
A small town never mentioned in the Old Testament; a town about which His native disciple-to-be Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Of those three decades, we know little, save that the Child got bigger, wiser and was loved by God and the people of Nazareth.
Then He got lost for three days and was found in the temple by His parents. He gave no more than three years publicly to the people He had been born to save.
He had John baptize Him. The devil tempted Him from His mission with bread, pride, with riches. He had friends among the well-to-do: Lazarus and his sisters. But, He spent most of His time with those the self-righteous despised. He preached a twin message everyone could understand: Love God above all else; love your sisters and brothers as much as you love yourself.
Those three years were a journey, as we read in our Gospel today. A journey to Jerusalem. Because, you see, Jesus became human not simply to say something. He became human to do something. Every word He spoke, and every breath He drew. Every curse that mocked Him and every stone that missed Him was a step on His way to Jerusalem. It was there that the impossible would happen, the unthinkable.
Our salvation from sin and self would be consummated in crucifixion. Not our crucifixion, but God’s. And, if we are to follow Christ, we too must be ready to bear a cross. Whoever does not take up their cross daily is not worthy of me. But as we saw in the Gospel, He turned savagely on Peter when He rebelled against the cross.
Remember: Even Jesus had someone help Him carry His cross, and He will help us carry ours. What kind of cross will you have to carry? The cross you carry now, I do not know. I do know the cross hangs over all of our lives, and with all my years of theology, I still do not know why.
What I do know, what I have experienced, is that there is no human pain that cannot be touched to the Cross of Christ. There is no death that does not bring life. The only thing that can help us carry the crosses that are so much part of life is our relationship with God. Hopefully, a loving relationship.
But you will not love God because you have studied Him. You will love Him because you have touched Him and He has touched you. The questions “Why suffering? Why pain? Why do bad things happen to good people?” Those questions will not wear away.
But you will come to know that your Gethsemane is His Garden; your Calvary is also His Cross. We all shudder a little when Christ warns us that life can get tough, and that we must face up to it. None of us like cross carrying. We are somewhat like those disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Remember them? They were walking away from Jerusalem, away from the suffering, away from the Cross. The Resurrected Christ joins them on the road, and they do not recognize Him.
They tell Him that they are leaving Jerusalem, going to Emmaus, away from the Cross. We all like to do that: walk away from our own Jerusalem, away from our sufferings and the Cross.
But, if we do turn and walk away, we will miss the Resurrection.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever more. Amen.