“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
Jesus, in speaking to his disciples, lays out the foundation for the discipleship map. He gives us the directions that leads to the desired destination. Additionally, he gives us a promise. When we look at what Jesus tells his disciples, we must realize that Jesus makes a distinction. He tells us that if we want to follow him then this is what we must do.
Jesus never forces anyone to follow him and never forces anyone to be his disciple. He is always giving the choice to us. It’s free will. It is the beauty of love because love cannot be forced. Just as the love Christ displayed on the cross was freely laid down by him for the world, our love for him in return must be freely given. Our discipleship is a choice. We choose who we want to follow. We make the determination the Lord will be Lord of our life.
Once the choice is made that you or I want to follow Jesus, then Christ tells us there must be two things prior to being able to follow Him. We must deny ourselves and take up our cross. These are not optional. Notice, he does not give us the choice or say, “whoever wishes to deny himself” or “whoever wishes to take up his cross.” He gives us the choice to follow Him or not, but the sacrifices in following Him are not optional.
Deny himself: Jesus expects us to put Him and His will above our own. He expects His disciples to desire the things of God over the things of this world. He expects us to go to Mass, even when we do not feel like it or want to spend the day on the lake. He expects us to go to Confession, even when we think we have not been that bad or it’s not that important. He expects us to pray, even when we want to sleep a little later. He expects us to forgive others, even when we are still angry and hurt. He expects us to love others, even when it is easier to hate.
Take up his cross: What is the cross? What did it bring to Christ? It is the tool which the Romans used to crucify and take the human life of the Lord. It brought pain, suffering, torture, bleeding, and death. It brought a weight that, at times, was so heavy that Christ fell underneath the weight of it. It was the avenue for which God laid all the sins of humanity and, with the death of Jesus, brought about the defeat of sin and death. We too have a cross to carry. We do not get to choose if we want to walk by and not pick up the cross. It is an expectation and condition of discipleship. Your cross may be different from mine, but we all have a cross to carry. It may be an illness, a disability, the loss of a loved one, financial hardships and difficulties or whatever life may bring, but we all have a cross. The purpose of the cross is to bring us closer to God. The purpose of the cross is to crucify ourselves, our sins, our human desires and ways, and be uplifted by God. The purpose of the cross is death leading to life.
Without the cross there is no salvation.
“For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory and them he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” (Matthew 16:27)
There is glory in the cross. There is purpose in the cross. There is glory and purpose in your cross. It is the mark of discipleship. It is the requirement of discipleship. It leads to the Father. It unites you with the Son. It empowers you to be a disciple through the Holy Spirit.