The cost of discipleship cannot be avoided or toned down or filtered or softened. God knows we are all tempted to make a dash for cheap grace, to skirt the real issue of cross-bearing. But, we cannot ignore the message in today’s scripture, plain to be seen: “whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Jesus was concerned about the troubling direction of His popularity. Following the extraordinary miracle of the Transfiguration, the confidence of His followers, especially Peter, was boundless. They saw His star rising and they expected to rise with Him too. They had everything to gain and nothing to lose by following such a miracle-worker. This, they thought, was the dream of dreams; the good and wonderful life at its best. Is it any wonder that Peter would hear nothing of Jesus’s suffering and death at the hands of the chief priests and scribes? “God forbid,” Peter cried, “No such thing shall ever happen to you.” And, what was Jesus response? “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16:23).
The giddy enthusiasm of fair-weather friends turns on a dime, and Jesus had to speak directly to the whole issue at hand in today’s scripture. He absolutely insists that He and all who would follow Him must take up the cross; must lose life in order to gain life. (Matthew 16:25)
Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, who were spurned on by their mother, thought differently at the beginning of their ministry, and asked Jesus if they could expect to be rewarded by juicy promotions in His kingdom. Jesus rejected this notion of careerism in His kingdom, insisting that His disciples must deny themselves and follow him. No room for career promotions in the Lord’s kingdom; only a life of self denial and loving service.
Our calling or vocation is to follow Christ, not to lord it over others in the name of Christ. Many people make the mistake of confusing career with vocation. A vocation is not a career. It is a way of life, and, for the Christian, that way of life is one modeled on the life of Christ. Regrettably, few seem to appreciate this to the detriment of Christ’s church on earth. Cardinal Gantin was the prefect for the congregation of Bishops at the Vatican. Upon his retirement he decried the curse of careerism among Bishops who often pressured him to promote them to bigger Dioceses. Evidently, these Bishops ignored or forgot the admonition of Christ against careerism in his kingdom. How sad!
Following Christ is not about obtaining positions of honor or authority in His kingdom; it is about embracing a life dedicated to loving one another as He has loved us.
Fr. Hugh Duffy