First Reading: Ws 9:13-18b; Psalm: 90. R. v.1; Second Reading: Phlm 9b-10.12-17; Gospel: Lk 14:25-33
THE CROSS AND US
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27).
The image of the cross has become something associated with the Christian faith drawing from the historical evidence of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Whenever the cross is mentioned, we readily identify it with suffering, agony, pain and death. The thought of the cross in this sense is not a conclusion reached from a conscious blank mind, but from an informed mind that has registered a historical event in which the cross has become synonymous with the suffering, agony and death of Jesus Christ. So somehow, the cross has become a divine property, something the Son of God acquired by his death upon it.
Today, Jesus speaks of the cross. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Hearing this injunction from Jesus as regards the cross could also suggest that feeling in us that Jesus wants us to accept something that is not delightful but painful, something related to the very cross he carried to save us. This feeling is not wrong. As long as we live, there are numerous crosses that must come our way. But the mistake some people often make is believing that God is the one who wilfully imposed these crosses on us. After all, the cross is God’s property
The manner in which some of us interpret the sad events of life inadvertently puts God in a very bad light. When we are faced with some unfortunate realities of life, in a bid to offer consolation to ourselves or to others, we easily resort to the conclusion that those sad events are God’s will for us or that it is a cross which God has given us to carry. Imagine telling a cancer patient that the sickness is the will of God for him/her. Or admitting that the cause of your car accident that made you lose an arm is some punishment from God due to your sins; a cross God has given you to carry. Come off it; our God is not cruel.
Sometimes we make this mistake when we offer a shoulder to the bereaved or sufferers to cry on. A woman had just lost her husband and two children in a fatal accident and we say to her, “Be consoled, perhaps it’s God’s will for you.” A friend had just lost a very lucrative job and we say to him “Perhaps God is saying something to you.” A young lady is wailing in heartbreak because her would-be husband just abandoned her on her wedding day and we turn to her and say, “You know, every disappointment is a blessing.” The prospect that God will give us another chance to heal us from a past ugly incident does not suggest that God had a hand in that unfortunate incident that happened to us previously. Human actions and inactions have their necessary consequences. We shouldn’t put those consequences on God.
God is not wicked and cruel as many paint him to be. Jesus, the perfect revelation of God revealed to us the true nature of God as one who loves and forgives and not as one who punishes and destroys. This understanding of God from Jesus is a breath of new air deflating the Old Testament perception of God as one who harms and destroys. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mt 5:43-45).
The truth we must not forget is that human actions have their necessary consequences. And the fruition of these consequences reiterates our free will. Jesus was made to carry the cross and was brutally crucified upon it. It was not his decision to die in that cruel manner but the evil action of man. In this life, so many unfortunate events like sickness, job loss, disappointments, heartbreak, divorce, failures and betrayals may hit at us. These sad events are not some punishment from God or a cross God has given us to carry. They are synonymous to living and likely to happen. They are necessary consequences of life actions. These are our own crosses that we must carry too.
We can listen to these words of Jesus once again; “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Jesus did not say “Whoever does not bear my cross or the cross that I give, cannot be my disciple.” But that “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Our own crosses are the challenges we shall experience in life. Not just because we are Christians who will face the wickedness of the world but because we are humans who will face the realities of life.
What Jesus expects from us is not to permit our crosses to crush us. In other words, we should not succumb to the painful effects of life challenges. So when we are faced with some unfortunate challenges of life like sickness, infidelity, divorce, loss of job, to mention but a few, our faith in God should not dwindle or run out. We should carry these crosses and follow Jesus notwithstanding. This admonishment of Jesus comes because he knows how life challenges can be so powerful to cripple our faith life and life generally if we do not brace up.
We hear Saint Paul in the second reading of today writing to Philemon about his servant Onesimus who he encountered in prison. Onesimus suffered imprisonment not as a punishment or a cross from God but as a consequence to his action of stealing from his master Philemon. Saint Paul appealed to Philemon in his letter to accept Onesimus back for he was now a changed person.
One of the crosses we must also carry in life is the stigma of our past mistakes and also the willingness to forgive those who have wronged us. Sometimes we experience ill treatment and disrespect from people due to our past mistakes. This stigma can be so distressing. But Jesus wants us to know that he loves us and we shouldn’t allow that stigma to crush or plunge us into further evil; instead we should bear it if it comes and follow him faithfully anyway. Saint Paul therefore was appealing to Philemon to spare Onesimus that stigma of his past error; and to accept him not as a slave but as a beloved brother.
Forgiveness can be so difficult especially when our trust is betrayed. However, it is one of the crosses we should carry if we want to follow Jesus. Philemon must have to carry this cross of forgiveness to accept Onesimus back. I presume there are some of us in this Church who need to carry this cross of forgiveness; the cross that we have refused to carry for a while now due to bitterness, anger and hate. Perhaps, the refusal to carry this cross is affecting and destroying our homes, marriages, relationships and work. We can choose to carry this cross today and heal from it. Because the refusal to carry it can gradually destroy us.
Remember that the reason Jesus accepted his cross in the first place was to forgive our shortcomings. If then we truly want to follow Jesus, we must also bear the burdens of the past errors of others; not remembering them but taking the pain to forget them. And after journeying through our own Golgotha and enduring the excruciating pain of the crosses of life, we shall rise and share in the glory of the cross.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, help us to realise and accept the numerous crosses of life. May they only come as a challenge to our faith to strengthen us and not to destroy us. Amen.