A man by the name of Clarence Jordan published what became known as the cotton patch version of the New Testament in the 1950s-60s. During this period he also got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He helped organize marches and sit-ins all over the south. When he started to get into trouble for these activities he turned for help to his brother, Robert who had become a prominent Georgia lawyer and politician. Clarence was shocked when his brother refused to help him. In fact, he made it known that he would have nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement. When Clarence reminded his brother of his commitment to Jesus Christ and how that commitment should compel him to get involved, his brother’s reply was, “I follow Jesus Christ up to a point.”
“I follow Him to the cross, but not on the cross, I am not getting myself crucified.” Clarence looked at his brother and said, “Robert, you are not a follower of Jesus, you are only an admirer of Him.” That true story came to my mind when I read today’s gospel. Jesus pulls no punches, He is straight-forward when He tells us whoever does not take up His cross and follow in His steps is not fit to be My disciple. What kind of disciple are you?
Do you stop to realize that Christ is the Word of God? Everyone else is a byword, Jesus is the Word. All of us are letters. I am sure that there are times when we can relate to Robert’s feelings. There are times in our lives when the name of Jesus Christ was only a curse word. When the last thing we want to get involved in is carrying a cross and following Him. In fact, we want to turn away and run, avoid any kind of pain.
And, we have many ways of running. We can remove ourselves from a painful situation or escape it with alcohol or drugs, work or pleasure. Hardship and tragedy enter all of our lives at some time or another. It is part of the human condition, we may try to run away, but we cannot. Just last week I was speaking to a young man of 26 who will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair because of a drunk driver. I know of a woman who is struggling to bring up two kids alone, only to find out that she had contracted the AIDS virus from her alcoholic ex-husband. What do people like this do? When the cross that has suddenly been thrust upon them seems to exceed their strength to carry it? What do we do?
At these times it is good to recall that there was a time in the life of Jesus when His cross exceeded His strength to carry it. And, when that time came, Jesus had to accept the help of a stranger Simon of Cyrene. Think of it, the Son of God, the Savior of the World had to admit it to Himself and to the world that He lacked the strength to carry His cross. If the Son of God had the humility to do this then, certainly, we should have the humility to follow suit. When the cross in our life becomes too heavy for us to carry we should reach out for help, just as Jesus did. And, to whom do we reach out? First and foremost, we reach out to Jesus Himself.
He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what it feels like to stagger and fall beneath a cross. He knows what it feels like to have to admit that a cross has become too heavy to carry alone. He knows what it feels like to have to humble yourself and accept help from another. Besides reaching out to Jesus, we should reach out to those around us. God often works through other people. Friends, family or even, when needed a professional counselor.
Finally, the story of how Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry His cross and the story of how Robert Jordan refused to help his brother in his time of need make us ask ourselves, how do we respond to people when they reach out to us for help? Are we Simon of Cyrene or are we Robert Jordan? Another question, are we out of practice in our faith? Do we live and breathe our faith?
If someone watched us for a day, would they say that is a true Christian? The help that we may be asked to give can be as simple as a sympathetic ear or just encouragement. In other words, my friends. Are you a follower of Jesus or just an admirer?