Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s Holy Gospel, our Lord calls the people to Himself, along with His Disciples, and speaks to them of discipleship as the way to salvation through His most holy, most precious Cross. Just before today’s lection, our Lord prophesies His saving and holy Passion which confounds Peter who rebukes our Lord for saying such a thing. Our Lord, in return, sternly rebukes His errant servant, saying to him that he’s thinking with the mind of man and not with the mind of God (Mk. 8:31-33). Our Lord offers to them and to us the icon of His Cross as the image par excellence of all that Jesus is. The Cross is the source and the summit of salvation, the well-spring of sanctification. The Cross is the framework of all of creation. Dissect creation and there you will find the Cross at the center, binding all things together, providing substance and structure to all of creation.
And with that in mind – the mind of God intended for the minds of men to wrap themselves around – Jesus dares to make the Cross the highest of all things, the premium worthy of our self-denial. “’For whosoever will save his life shall lose it,’” Jesus declares, “’but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it.’” Through the Cross comes Life. “We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Thy holy Resurrection, . . . For, behold! through the Cross joy has come into all the world,” sings the Church at the end of her Divine Liturgy. “Let us ever bless the Lord, praising His Resurrection, for by enduring the Cross for us, He has destroyed death by Death.”
The precious and Life-giving Cross of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ says it all. It is worthy of our total and unconditional surrender. It measures our faithfulness and obedience. It characterizes our life as disciples of the Crucified and Risen One. It is the rule of life. It makes us like Jesus Christ. Indeed, what is more valuable, more worthy than the Cross? Is there anything greater we can gain if we deny so great a salvation as the Cross (Hb. 2:3)? Are the treasures of Egypt greater than the treasure of the Cross (Hb. 11:25-26)? “’For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’” To what are you willing to sell your very soul, your immortal soul? To the Cross or to the world? What has the power to save: The Cross or the princes, the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation? This is not a one-time choice, but a choice that is ever before us as we wind our way through this world, navigating its darkness (2 Tm. 2:11-13). Just what are we willing to give our souls to and for?
And, then, our Lord says this:
‘Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’
It is hard for us perhaps to imagine being ashamed of our Lord, but He warns us of its real possibility and of its eternal consequences. We pray constantly in the Our Father that we may never fall into so great a temptation that we might do just that – deny our Lord and Master, be ashamed of Him and of His words, especially of His Cross. And yet, we struggle at times with bearing Him witness, of allowing His Cross to permeate our hearts, our minds, our lives, and to be revealed in us and through us. Make the sign of the Cross in public? Bow my head in prayer, giving thanks for the food before me in the midst of people? Giving God thanks openly for the blessing received? Attributing to God this “good fortune” instead of attributing it to the fate of luck itself? Do our words and our actions reveal the Cross? Do they show that we love the wounds of our Lord more than prosperity, more than good health, more than creaturely comforts, more than life itself? Do we find ourselves going along to get along because we want to be liked, we want to fit in, we want the comfort and safety these things afford?
These little, seemingly minor, things challenge us. And yet, the words of our Lord elsewhere challenge us: if we are not faithful in small things can we expect to be faithful in bigger things (Lk. 16:10)? It is the little things that, ultimately, matter and prepare us for the greater things. St. David of Wales tells us to “Do the little things.” If we struggle with giving our Lord His just due in a world still relatively amenable to the Faith (though that is definitely changing for which we need to be preparing ourselves), how will we do so when the world turns against us by turning against Him? “’If the world hates you,’” Jesus once said,
‘you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My Name’s sake, because they do not know Him Who sent Me’ (Jn. 15:18-21).
In fact, Jesus warns us elsewhere that there is coming a time when you will not only be expelled, but there will be those so confused and blind that they will think they’re doing God a service by killing you (Jn. 16:2-3)! But, as our Lord has confided to us, “’Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’” Indeed, “’Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.’” In this, He tells us, “’Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.’” It is then that we will join the noble and worthy ranks of the Prophets before us who were persecuted likewise (Mt. 5:10-12)!
The other evening I was vegging out watching “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” There was a scene in which Prof. Dumbeldore warns the young Harry that the times were growing darker with the rise of evil, and says to him, “Harry, there is coming a time when you will need to choose between doing what is right and doing what is easy.” Dumbledore’s words caught me off guard and caused me to really ponder the contrast: not doing what is right vs. doing what is wrong, but doing what is right vs. doing what is easy. Doing what is easy . . . . . . . Rarely is doing right easy. If it were, we would do it most gladly and without a second thought. But, as it is, there are times when we wrestle with doing the right, the good, the true, the beautiful. We know these things, in part, constitute the image of God in us (Ep. 4:24; Co. 3:10), and yet we are so fallen that we gravitate more easily to the doing of the easy, which generally is not the right. It is here we need the Cross to enlighten our way with its wisdom that is only of God. It is here we need to see with the mind of God and not the mind of men. If we find ourselves betwixt and between, look for the Cross to find your way. Forgiveness. Justice. Mercy. Compassion. These are typically not easy, but they are right because they are full of the Cross. The Cross – its holy and saving Passion – points the way forward. To paraphrase Dumbledore, do the Cross. The easy way is not of the Cross. We know that. The Cross is not easy, but it alone gives Life through the Passion of our Lord (Rm. 8:29; Pp. 2:5-11; 1 Pe. 3:8-4:6, 12-19). Beloved, Pascha is coming!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!